Sunday, August 29, 2010

Church fails to verify priest’s status

Church fails to verify priest’s status
August 29, 2010

New statements from Catholic Church officials fail to verify the status of a former Kansas priest who was “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

Orestes Huerta, a Catholic priest who served temporarily in the Dodge City diocese, was named by church officials last May as one of three priests who had worked in the diocese and had “credible” allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against them.

In July, a Journal-World article revealed that when Huerta left the United States, he returned to the Phillipines, where he remains in active ministry with the Diocese of Boac.

On Tuesday, an article by the Catholic News Service reported that the bishop of Boac said he would not investigate sexual abuse allegations made against Huerta “based on hazy and unverified reports from the Internet.”

In a phone interview, Reynaldo Evangelista, bishop of Boac diocese, told the Journal-World that Huerta did not have a pastoral assignment, but resided at a diocesan pastoral center and continues to perform Mass. However, Evangelista would not comment on allegations of sexual abuse against Huerta and would not say whether Huerta is prohibited from contact with children.

Huerta’s case, detailed as part of a follow-up to a Journal-World feature in June on sexual abuse in the Kansas Catholic Church, highlights a loophole in reforms within the church designed to address sexual abuse, said Teresa Kettelkamp, director of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. Kettelkamp’s organization created the current reforms in the church following the national sexual abuse scandal in 2002.

In the U.S., if allegations of sexual abuse committed by a priest are substantiated by an independent review board, that priest is removed from ministry. That does not pertain to dioceses in other countries, Kettelkamp said.

“They flee. ... They run back,” said Kettelkamp of priests who leave the U.S. after sexual abuse allegations surface.

That situation could place more children in danger, she said. “If (a priest) does have a pedophiliac mindset, he’s not going to stop,” she said. “That’s what predators do.”

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