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Report: Church Knew Priest Was Accused, But Let Him Serve

Oct 18, 2002 | AP

Roman Catholic church officials allowed a New Britain priest accused of sexual abuse to continue ministering even after they learned of a warrant for his arrest, The Hartford Courant reported.

Citing a diocesan source it didn't identify, the paper reported that the Rev. Enrique Vasquez disappeared from St. Mary Parish in New Britain on Oct. 10, seven weeks after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford first learned of the outstanding warrant doe his arrest in Costa Rica.

Authorities in Costa Rica have been searching for the Rev. Enrique Vasquez since 1999, when he disappeared amid allegations he had molested a 10-year-old boy.

The abuse allegedly occurred during 1995 in the small town of Santa Rosa de Pocosol in San Carlos, about 78 miles north of San Jose. The family came forward with the allegations in 1998.

Citing its source, The Courant reported that the archdiocese allowed Vasquez to leave on a previously scheduled monthlong vacation to Mexico on Sept. 4 of this year after receiving a copy of the warrant a week earlier. In addition, Vasquez was allowed to celebrate Mass several times upon returning from his vacation this month.

Bishop Peter Rosazza refused to answer any questions about when the archdiocese learned of the warrant. He did acknowledge that Vasquez was allowed to continue ministering, including at an evening Mass the day after church officials told him he was being relieved of his duties.

Rosazza refused to discuss why Vasquez was allowed to celebrate Mass after he had been terminated.

The archdiocese's spokesman, the Rev. John Gatzak, has said the archdiocese first learned about the molestation charges while Vasquez was away on vacation. Gatzak also said the archdiocese was cooperating with Costa Rican authorities in an investigation of Vasquez.

But Alba Campos Hernandez, the Costa Rican prosecutor who has been working the Vasquez case since 1998, said Thursday she has yet to be contacted by anyone in Connecticut, including the FBI, whom the archdiocese said it contacted after learning of the arrest warrant.

"The first move by the diocese was to contact the FBI so they could take charge of the matter," said John Sitarz, an archdiocese attorney. "Both state and federal officials were notified."

The FBI declined to comment.

The state's attorney's office in New Britain and the New Britain Police Department both said they had not received any information from the archdiocese or the FBI about Vasquez.

Vasquez began his job at the New Britain parish in 1999, church officials said, after the archdiocese received an "affidavit of suitability" from his Costa Rican diocese, Gatzak said last week.

Gatzak said he didn't know why Costa Rica would have issued such an affidavit after receiving the molestation accusation in 1998. The Courant reported that documents it obtained this week suggest that Costa Rican church officials were protecting Vasquez from prosecution in his homeland.

Hernandez, the Costa Rican prosecutor, wrote to Vasquez's superiors twice in 1998 seeking information about the priest's whereabouts. They wrote back saying Vasquez was in New York for three years at a Hispanic parish, and then said they didn't know his precise address.

According to the Costa Rican arrest warrant, Vasquez began abusing a 10-year-old boy in 1995, when he was a parish priest in the small town of Santa Rosa de Pocosol in San Carlos.

The warrant said Vasquez made up countless reasons to get the boy alone, such as taking him to run errands or up to his bedroom to "play." Once, when the boy's mother was cooking for a patron saint festival, the priest was allegedly molesting her son in the next room.

Vasquez apparently got caught when another parish priest told the boy's mother that he saw Vasquez, shirtless, lying next to her son in the rectory. When the mother confronted Vasquez, he reportedly told her that her son had "mental problems."

When confronted last week by church officials in New Britain, Vasquez denied the allegations against him.

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