A former Orange County priest who has spent a year on the run from sex abuse charges has been spotted in west Texas, southern New Mexico and northern Mexico, and Texas authorities believe he now lives in their state or across the border.
Authorities also say Siegfried F. Widera, 62, who is accused of 42 counts of child molestation and worked in the Diocese of Orange from 1976 to 1985, may be trying to work as a priest in small villages in northern Mexico.
“El Paso is literally 10 feet from the Mexican border,” said El Paso County sheriff’s spokesman Rick Glancey. “We suspect that he may be trying to conduct himself as a member of the clergy in some of the smaller villages in northern Mexico who are unaware of his past.”
Members of the West Texas Southwest Fugitive Task Force count Widera as one of the most wanted sex crime figures in the country and are leading the search for him. The task force is distributing Widera’s photo and trying to broadcast it on Mexican television.
“He’s a serial child molester,” Deputy U.S. Marshal Doug Bachert said in a statement. “Wherever he is now, there are some unwitting families that have no idea what he is about.”
Widera was ordained a Catholic priest in 1967. Six years later he was convicted of sexual misconduct with an adolescent boy in Milwaukee and sentenced to three years’ probation.
In 1976 he was moved from Milwaukee to Orange County. The Diocese of Orange said it was not aware of Widera’s conviction when it hired him, but confirmed he arrived with a warning from the archdiocese of Milwaukee that he had a “moral problem having to do with a boy.”
The Diocese of Orange said then-Orange Bishop William Johnson accepted Widera at the request of the late archbishop of Milwaukee, William Cousins, and was assured there would be “no great risk” in allowing Widera to return to pastoral work.
But Widera allegedly continued to molest boys until he was removed from the ministry in 1985 following accusations of sexual abuse.
Authorities said the California molestations took place when Widera was a priest at St. Justin Martyr Church in Anaheim and St. Martin de Porres Church in Yorba Linda.
A 25-year-old truck driver filed a civil suit in April 2002 accusing Widera of abuse and claiming the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Orange covered up molestations.
The next month, Widera was charged in Walworth County, Wis., with four counts of enticing a child and five counts of indecent behavior with a child, but authorities could not find him.
In October, Orange County prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest on 33 felony counts of child molestation.