Priests Accused of Child Sex Abuse Seek Refuge in South America

Priest Accused Child Abuse

A yearlong investigation by GlobalPost found that the Catholic Church allows priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children in the United States and Europe to relocate and seek refuge in impoverished parishes across South America.

Reporters confronted five such accused priests in Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. While one priest in Peru admitted to having molested a 13-year-old boy while serving at a Mississippi diocese, another in Brazil is currently being investigated after he was accused of sexually exploiting children with special needs in an orphanage he founded. All five have been allowed to continue as priests despite criminal investigations being carried out against them. While some have even offered monetary compensation to their victims, all of them continue to enjoy the privilege and respect that comes along with being clergy members. They also continue to have access to minors in their congregations, as the Catholic Church has not yet asked them to step down from their respective posts.

In the United States, Catholic leaders have received a lot of flak for concealing the sex crimes of a number of priests and transferring them to different parishes instead of turning them over to concerned law enforcement. Such scandals have cost the Church billions of dollars and also resulted in a sharp decline of new clergy members.

South American Priest Accused Sex Abuse

Responding to the widespread problem, bishops in the United States approved a “zero-tolerance” policy in 2002, according to which priests accused of molesting children can no longer continue to serve in the clergy. However, attorneys for the victims say that the Church has now started to relocate such priests to poor parishes overseas in order to protect its own reputation.

“As developed countries find it tougher to keep predator priests on the job, bishops are increasingly moving them to the developing world where there’s less vigorous law enforcement, less independent media and a greater power differential between priests and parishioners,” said David Clohessy, spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “This is massive, and my suspicion is that it’s becoming more and more pronounced.”

The priests confronted by GlobalPost, now located far from the American and European churches, where the tragic incidents of sex abuse took place, include:

  • Father Carlos Urrutigoity, who was accused of sharing beds with teenage boys and fondling them in Pennsylvania. While the bishop of Scranton referred to Urrutigoity as “a serious threat to young children,” he continues to lead mass in an upscale church today. Urrutigoity has also been promoted to second-in-command at the Ciudad del Este diocese.
  • Father Francisco Montero, who was accused of sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl in Minnesota, was eventually relocated to Ecuador. Even though a dossier to his new diocese from the Archdiocese of Minneapolis warns clergy members of Montero’s threatening past, the priest has been placed in a succession of remote parishes.
  • Father Paul Madden, who admitted to molesting a 13-year-old boy during a mission trip to Mississippi, was redeemed from his crime after the diocese paid the victim’s family $50,000 and relocated Madden to Peru. Now, Madden heads the weekly mass at the diocese of Chimbote.
  • Father Jan Van Dael, who was accused of molesting many young men in Belgium, has now been relocated to Brazil, where he has founded an orphanage for homeless children with special needs. Currently, Dael is being investigated after authorities received reports of him having sexually abused minors at his orphanage.
  • Father Federico Fernandez Baeza, who was indicted by a grand jury in 1987 after being accused of indecency with two children. A family in Texas had accused Baeza of raping two brother over a period of two years but prosecutors dropped the criminal charges against Baeza after the diocese of San Antonio paid the victims over $1 million. Thereafter, Baeza was flown off to Colombia, where he continues to serve as a priest and senior administrator at a Catholic university.


The priests told GlobalPost that they had been allowed to continue preaching without any restrictions and were not called for any internal investigations.

It must be mentioned here that Pope Francis has repeatedly pledged to clean the Church of all clergy members who have been accused of various sexual offences. Last year, the pontiff sent a letter to every bishop, ordering him to abide by a global “zero-tolerance” policy on matters of child sex abuse. This year, he also set up a commission to specially look into the protection of children in churches.

Photo Credits: The Malay Mail

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