A priest who ministered to Spanish-speaking Catholics in Yuma was arrested Friday on child molestation charges by police acting on information from the Diocese of Tucson.
The Rev. Juan Guillen, 58, an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, is facing three charges of sexual conduct with a minor and three charges of child molestation. His bond was set at $72,000. The diocese said Saturday that it would not post bond for him.
Guillen is the second priest arrested on child molestation charges in the Tucson diocese. The first arrest also was made in Yuma, in January 2001, but the priest went free in a case where a detective criticized the diocese for failing to cooperate.
Diocese officials say an individual made the sexual abuse allegations against Guillen on Monday. The allegations cover a period between 1989 and 1996, but no further details were available. Diocese spokesman Fred Allison would not say how many victims may be involved or whether they were boys or girls. Guillen was placed on administrative leave and is scheduled for a court hearing Tuesday.
“While we are saddened and shocked by the news of these allegations, we put our trust in a fair, careful and thorough investigation by the police and by the diocese,” Msgr. Richard O’Keeffe, pastor at Immaculate Conception, said in a written statement.
Members of Immaculate Conception parish know Guillen but his main work is with a nearby chapel for Spanish-speaking members, the Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Both churches are in working-class neighborhoods in the middle of this Colorado River city of 78,000.
Guillen is known as a quiet and humble man who enjoys playing soccer with the youth of the parish.
Parishioners at Saturday evening Mass were shocked to learn about the arrest and said they would await the findings of the police investigation.
“But it does seem a little bit disproportionate,” said church deacon Paul Muthart, “that on the strength of an allegation, a man who has been in the community 20 years doing good work, day in and day out, could be neutralized just like that.”
Said parishioner Ignacio OriÃ±ez, “In the middle of summer in the heat and in the winter when it was cold he’d be out there running up and down the field with the children. Father Guillen is always there for people; I just can’t believe these things are true.”
Frank Olea, who’s been a member of the church all his life, called Guillen a loving man.
“I think we need to realize that these are just accusations and we need to just hold off and pray for the man whether the accusations are false or true,” Olea said. “He was always a caring man and he still is; nothing has changed.”
The Rev. John Arnold, saying Mass Saturday for O’Keeffe, who is out of the country, told the congregation, “I hope and hope that this allegation is not true, but if it is I have a great concern for my people.”
Arnold, raised in Tucson and a priest at Immaculate Conception, said, “I believe this is a time when God is smoking termites out. This is a time of purification and cleansing in the earth and I’m not discouraged. This is a great moment in grace.”
He told parishioners that the church had no choice but to put Guillen on immediate administrative leave.
The news comes during a year of scandal for the diocese and its 350,000 Catholics as well as for the Catholic Church in the United States.
In January, the Tucson diocese settled 11 civil suits that alleged sexual abuse of boys by four local priests. In June, it released the names of 15 priests who had what the diocese deemed “credible” accusations of child sexual abuse lodged against them.
And reports have surfaced that the diocese covered up or ignored reports of sexual abuse by clergy. Just last week a report surfaced that a young man was given a job in the Tucson diocese to keep him quiet about sexual relations he’d had with two local priests and the former bishop of Phoenix.
Similar stories in other dioceses have brought more arrests of priests in the past seven months “than in the past seven years,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests.
“I applaud the victim or victims in this case who had the courage to come forward and report this,” Clohessy said.
Guillen has been a priest in the Yuma area since 1982. A native of Peruban de Ramos in Michoacan, Mexico, he was ordained in 1974, and was a seminary instructor in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, between 1975 and 1976. His first job in the Tucson diocese was at Immaculate Conception in Yuma in 1982. He has also worked at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the nearby farming community of Somerton. He became a U.S. citizen in 1993.
Norma Grace Frei, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception whose allegations regarding her son Donnie led to the earlier arrest of a priest in Yuma, said Guillen’s arrest – though shocking – gives her some peace of mind. Frei said it shows the church is keeping its word on notifying law enforcement immediately upon hearing a report of abuse.
That wasn’t the case with her son. Msgr. Robert C. Trupia was arrested on seven counts of child molestation in connection with charges that he sexually abused the boy at Immaculate Conception in the early 1970s. Although court records show the diocese knew about reports of abuse by Trupia as early as 1976, officials did not go to police and the diocese did not suspend Trupia from ministry until 1992.
Yuma police detective Sgt. Jan Schmitt told the Arizona Daily Star earlier this year that the diocese was “never helpful to us” in the criminal investigation during the late 1990s. Schmitt also is working on the case against Guillen.
Trupia was one of four priests named in the civil suits the diocese settled for a sum estimated as high as $16 million. Frei was one of 10 male victims who were part of that settlement.
“These people should be caught and put in jail. You have no idea what the families go through,” said Frei, who has said she felt ostracized by other Catholics when her son filed the lawsuit. “It’s a lifetime of pain. It kills everything that’s holy and respectful and loving.”
Trupia was briefly jailed in connection with the charges that he molested Frei. But he was released because the charges did not meet the criminal statute of limitations then in force. The current statute says charges can be filed up to seven years from when the abuse occurred, or from the date when a report of the abuse was first made.
Trupia, 54, lives in Maryland and continues to receive $1,200 per month from the diocese. The Pima County Attorney’s Office is investigating him. Allison has referred to him as a “notorious and serial” child abuser and the local diocese is attempting to defrock him, a process that must go through the Vatican ( news – web sites).
“I will say that when I heard a priest had been arrested I had hoped it was Father Trupia,” Frei said. “Father Guillen’s arrest makes me relieved that they are doing what they promised to do. . . . If only they had done what they were supposed to do a long time ago. Maybe we could have spared lots of children and families.”
Yuma has undergone other suffering involving allegations of abusive priests.
The 15 priests whose names were released by the diocese in June, their service dating back to the 1950s, included four who had worked in Yuma, including Trupia, the Rev. William T. Byrne, Msgr. John A. Oliver and the Rev. Daniel Taylor.
The release of the names was part of the diocese’s new policy on sexual misconduct, which it formed in reaction to the abuse lawsuits. Some reports in the past had been reviewed by a diocesan panel called the “sensitive claims committee” before a decision was made on whether to go to law enforcement. Authorities are now notified by the diocese whenever an accusation is made.
Allison said news of Guillen’s arrest hit harder in Yuma than it might in larger cities.
“The chief of police goes to this parish,” Allison said, “so does the mayor and the editor and publisher of the local paper. It’s a very small community and this is a very difficult thing for everyone.”