Priest to Prison

By David Weber
Boston Herald
June 28, 2003

LAWRENCE - A Haverhill woman raped by a priest at age 15 said she felt so ashamed of herself that she tried to commit suicide three months ago.

"He changed me from pure innocence to guilt, anger and shame," Faith Johnston, now 18, said during a victim-impact statement at the sentencing yesterday of the former Rev. Kelvin Iguabita, 34, who received 12-to-14 years in prison. "I feel unloved, dirty, guilty and shameful."

Johnston, who gave news agencies permission to publish her name, added, "The fact that really is bothering me is that he has shown no sign of remorse."

Minutes later, when Iguabita was offered a chance to address the court, said, "As God is my witness, I am not the monster they are trying to show I am."

Essex Superior Court Judge Richard A. Welch III listened as prosecutor Kristen Buxton recommended an 8-to-12-year sentence, and defense attorney Martin Leppo asked for 2 years in a house of correction.

"This is one of the rare times I find the district attorney's recommendation too lenient," Welch said.

The judge recounted evidence showing Johnston, a devout Catholic who led a particularly sheltered childhood, was raped and assaulted five times at All Saints Church in Haverhill. Johnston was working at her first job, as a part-time secretary at the church, when the assaults occurred.

"She comes to you with her problems. And you respond with a series of calculated sexual assaults," Welch said.

The judge indicated that his sentence would have been harsher were it not for the letters written by former parishioners who praised Iguabita's compassion.

"The letters show that Mr. Iguabita is a man of certain great virtues and strengths. He has helped many people greatly, and they remain supportive," Welch said. "But they are blind to the strong evidence against him."

Johnston, whose parents also are deeply religious, testified at trial that she took the secretarial job at the church because her parents considered it a safe environment.

Gerald Johnston, the victim's father, also addressed the court yesterday and referred to Iguabita when he said, "There are certain people with whom we had every right and reason to place our implicit trust."

Iguabita is a native of Colombia who was recruited into the priesthood as part of a special program for Spanish-speaking priests. He graduated from St. John's Seminary in Brighton in 1999. The posting at All Saint Church in Haverhill was his first.

Leppo said that under homeland security policies, Iguabita almost certainly will be deported as soon as he is released from prison. He will become eligible for parole in 12 years.

Iguabita also faces another trial in which he is charged with indecently assaulting a woman from Rockport on two occasions in 1997 and 1998, before he became a priest.


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