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DA's Office Files Felony Charges Against Priest

Mar 28, 2003 | Ventura County Star

A priest accused of molesting altar boys at an Oxnard church between 1979 and 1986 now faces felony charges after Ventura County prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against him Thursday.

Fidencio Simon Silva, 53, is accused of 25 counts of molestation involving eight victims, ages 11 to 15, while he was associate pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Oxnard. If convicted, he faces up to 50 years in prison.

The charges against Silva, who might not be living in the United States, are believed to be the first criminal charges filed by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office against a priest since the clergy abuse scandal erupted more than a year ago. In all, the District Attorney's Office is investigating cases involving at least four priests and about 20 victims.

Manuel Vega, an Oxnard police officer whose formal allegations against Silva last April launched the criminal investigation, said he was stunned by the news of the charges.

"I was blown away. I was speechless," Vega said. "It's a good day to know that we, as victims, have been validated."

Vega's complaint to Oxnard police triggered a special statute of limitations that gave prosecutors one year to file criminal charges under a 1994 law that erases the regular time limit when the victim of a serious crime is younger than 18 at the time of the alleged offense.

"Thank God my case finally got filed today," he said.

Vega was in Sacramento earlier this week lobbying for a bill to extend the one-year limit and give investigators more time to seek search warrants and subpoenas before filing charges.

He also lobbied for a new state law, in effect since January, that lifts the statute of limitations for civil suits for one year. Vega is a plaintiff in a class-action civil case against the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"I hope and pray that it will help others," Vega said. "I think it's important. I think it's really important. There have been all of these really tremendous crimes against children and (Catholic Church leaders) had knowledge of it and allowed it to persist for decades."

The District Attorney's Office is now seeking an arrest warrant for Silva, who may be living in Mexico or Italy, said Deputy District Attorney Patrice Koenig.

Silva was transferred from Oxnard to a church in Mexico in 1986. He was seen in Jesus Maria, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, a few months ago, when he was interviewed about the abuse allegations for a CBS news program, Koenig said. He is no longer in that location, she said.

"We'll be working with law enforcement to locate him and bring him to justice," she said.

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