Priest Acquitted of Sex Charge
Members of Detroit Church Cheer Verdict, but Archdiocese Probe of Complaint Resumes
By Doug Guthrie
The Detroit News
January 14, 2005
DETROIT - The acquittal of a priest accused of sexually molesting a 7-year-old child at his southwest Detroit parish came as a shock Thursday to the Wayne County assistant prosecutor who argued the case.
But, the jury's finding that the Rev. Luis Javier de Alba Campos, 50, was innocent of fondling the boy while they slept together in the parents' home was welcomed by members of St. Gabriel Catholic Church.
"We felt if he had been found guilty it would be a great injustice," said Julia Guzman, who works as a lay pastoral associate at the largely Latino parish at 8118 W. Vernor.
De Alba Campos said he is ready to return to work, even back at St. Gabriel, where he is a popular figure. He said he would welcome the child and his family. A native of San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico, de Alba Campos was serving as administrative pastor on loan from the Mexican church when the charges were filed against him.
"I learned from the time I started studying to be a priest to forgive," de Alba Campos said through an interpreter following the verdict. "And, to demonstrate to all men and women, innocent or guilty, God's mercy."
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lora Weingarden said she was stumped by the verdict.
"I can't believe that 12 people didn't believe the child witness," she said.
De Alba Campos had been invited by the family to bless their home last spring. They shared a dinner and the priest and the child's father shared a bottle of tequila. When invited to spend the night, the mother testified that she wondered why the priest wanted to sleep with a child.
"Mr. Campos admitted under oath that he was drunk, and that he was in bed with this boy," Weingarden said. "He also admitted on the stand that when people are drunk they might not remember what they did, and that good people can do bad things, and that good priests can also sometimes do bad things."
Weingarden said the child had no motive to lie. It was the boy's older brother who dragged details of what allegedly happened out of the youth the next morning. The older boy testified that he was curious because the priest had also asked if he could sleep in his bed.
De Alba Campos was placed on inactive status by the Detroit Archdiocese in June and ordered to stay away from church property. He was charged in July with two counts of criminal sexual conduct second degree. Conviction could have been punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The archdiocese has not determined what will become of de Alba Campos. An internal investigation by the church, halted when Detroit police got involved, will resume, said Ned McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese.
"There is no way to predict the length or the outcome of these proceedings. During this time, Father de Alba will continue to be restricted from any public ministry in the archdiocese," McGrath said. "The archdiocese pledges its continued support to the family of the complainant in this case. While these difficult matters are being resolved, the archdiocese calls for prayers for all involved and for patience and understanding from the parishioners of St. Gabriel Parish."
The Rev. Donald Hanchon, pastor of Detroit's Holy Redeemer Parish, will continue as administrator of St. Gabriel.
About 200 supporters celebrated the verdict with de Alba Campos at a downtown restaurant. Guzman said the alleged victim and his family have remained welcome in the parish.
"Father, every time he went to someone during this ordeal, he emphasized that he wanted the family to be safe. They will never be outcast by this congregation," Guzman said.