|Nipomo Priest Is Suspected of Sex Crimes
The Charges against Geronimo Cuevas, 52, Are Misdemeanors; the St. Joseph's Assistant Pastor Is Placed on Administrative Leave by the Diocese
By Sarah Arnquist
San Luis Obispo
July 21, 2007
A priest at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Nipomo was among three men arrested Wednesday near Pirates Cove, and he was suspected of groping an undercover male deputy.
The Rev. Geronimo Enrique Cuevas, 52, was arrested on suspicion of sexual battery and soliciting a lewd act in a public place, the Sheriff's Department reported.
The charges are misdemeanors.
St. Joseph's, like all Catholic churches in San Luis Obispo County, is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey.
The diocese released a terse written statement Friday afternoon, saying Cuevas was placed on administrative leave and "no longer has any faculties to function as a priest." The statement also said the diocese will cooperate with the Sheriff's Department in its investigation.
A diocese employee told The Tribune on Friday that an official would be available to answer further questions about Cuevas. However, a diocese official never called back.
A secretary at the church confirmed Friday morning that Cuevas was an assistant pastor there, but said the church was not authorized to comment further. And several parishioners in leadership roles at St. Joseph's who were reached late Friday declined to comment.
As a result, several details about Cuevas were unknown Friday, including how long he has been at St. Joseph's, the exact nature of his duties at the church, how long he has been a priest, where else he has served and whether he has any criminal history or other sexually related incidents in his background.
A public records search showed Cuevas' registered address in February was in Las Vegas and that he previously lived in Salinas, Santa Cruz and Henderson, Nev.
When he was booked into County Jail on Wednesday, Cuevas stated he was unemployed and lived in Las Vegas, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Brian Hascall.
It's unclear why the priest listed himself as a Las Vegas resident when the diocese and church acknowledged he was serving at St. Joseph's.
Cuevas was released from County Jail after posting $2,000 bail.
He was arrested Wednesday along with a 45-year-old Oceano man (on suspicion of indecent exposure in a public place) and a 25-year-old Grover Beach man (on suspicion of sexual battery).
Undercover deputies went to the Pirates Cove on Wednesday afternoon after receiving complaints from residents about lewd acts being done there, Hascall said.
The department said that the parking lot and trail areas near Pirates Cove, which is close to Avila Beach, have a history of sexual solicitation problems. Deputies are periodically sent there to monitor the area.
Shock and disbelief were some of the reactions from Nipomo residents and St. Joseph's parishioners.
Rachel Rosas, who has attended St. Joseph's for decades, said the arrest did not fit with Cuevas' character.
"He was, from what I thought, a devout priest," Rosas said. "He was very serious about his job."
Lupe Aguirre and Guadalupe Gonzales regularly attended Cuevas' Mass in Spanish. Cuevas gave them food donations a few times, the couple said.
Aguirre said he and Cuevas were from neighboring states in Mexico and would often talk about their hometowns. Aguirre said he is from Guadalajara and Cuevas is from Guanajuato.
Nipomo resident Mike Haley said the news was discouraging, especially given the recent $660 million settlement between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and 508 people who accused priests of sexual abuse.
"How can it be tolerated? I can't grasp it," said Haley. "They are supposed to be the ones who are teaching love and tolerance."
Crecencio Guzman, who has periodically attended Mass at St. Joseph's, shook his head when hearing the news.
"Many people of the church will think this is very bad," Guzman said.
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