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S.C. Priest Pleads Guilty In Abuse Case

Apr 12, 2003 | The Charlotte Observer A Catholic priest asked fellow Catholics and the community for forgiveness Friday as he pleaded guilty to fondling a 5-year-old Rock Hill girl in her living room 2 1/2 years ago.

York County Circuit Court Judge John Hayes sentenced Father Juan Castano, 44, to two years in prison and two years probation on the charge of lewd act upon a minor under the age of 16.

Castano remains suspended from ministry and could possibly be defrocked, a Diocese of Charleston spokeswoman said. Castano's lawyer, public defender Harry Dest, said his client also may be deported back to his home country of Colombia due to the nature of the guilty plea.

Castano had a three-year visiting status at The Oratory in Rock Hill, where he served the Latino community. Castano faced up to 15 years in prison on the lewd act charge. As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors asked the judge to limit his sentence to two years.

In court, prosecutor Willy Thompson said the charges evolved from an incident that occurred sometime between September and October 2000. Castano, a priest at The Oratory in Rock Hill, was visiting the girl's home to help her aunt with some documents.

When the aunt needed to run an errand, Castano offered to stay and watch the girl and her 10-year-old brother, Thompson said.

After the aunt left, Castano sat next to the girl on the couch, where she showed him some of her drawings. Thompson said Castano then fondled her. In a written statement, Castano told police and the diocese that he immediately left the home after the incident occurred.

"I felt what I was doing was not right," Castano said in the statement. "I have recovered and the grace of God helps me. I feel certain it will never happen again."

The girl immediately told her brother what happened, and he told their aunt, Thompson said. The family eventually reported the incident to the archdiocese, which called police.

"A person who is God's representative should not have these kinds of thoughts," the mother said in Spanish through an interpreter.

"We are very worried because (the girl) has regressed. She cries a lot, and she wants us to be at her side all the time to protect her and care for her."

The Observer is not publishing the mother's name to protect the girl's identity.

Dest, Castano's lawyer, asked the judge to give Castano probation, saying Castano's actions were not premeditated.

"Once he acted inappropriately, he tried to stop," Dest said. "He is sorry for what happened. He is ashamed of what happened."

Speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter, Castano also asked for mercy. "I am a priest. I am a man of God," he said. "In spite of that, I've been (caught) by the devil. I want to ask His Honor to forgive me."

As part of his sentence, Castano must pay restitution of approximately $800 to the parents for the time they had to take off work during the investigation.

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