|Police: Mamaroneck Priest Charged in Sex Case Was about to Leave Country
By Christine Pizzuti
December 10, 2008
MAMARONECK - A priest who was arrested on a sex charge at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday was waiting to get on an international flight to his native Ecuador, village police said yesterday.
The Rev. Richard Ordonez, 37, a visiting priest at St. Vito's Church, a Roman Catholic parish on Underhill Avenue, was charged with first-degree sex abuse, a felony, after he was taken into custody Monday morning. He is being held without bail, and his Canadian and Ecuadorean passports were confiscated by a judge during his arraignment that night.
The New York Archdiocese plans to notify Ordonez formally by letter today that they will remove his permission to work as a priest in the region in light of his arrest and the allegations against him.
"That permission will be withdrawn, at least until the matter is satisfactorily resolved," said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "We will obviously cooperate with the investigation."
Village police said the victim came forward and reported the matter in September when she learned that Ordonez, who had been away, was returning to the area, which he did the first week in December.
Ordonez was aware of the investigation, Mamaroneck village police Lt. James Gaffney said.
Zwilling said Ordonez has been in the country for several years, thought he wasn't sure how many. Ordonez, a member of the Salesians order, was required to get permission to practice outside of Ecuador by both the province of Salesians in Ecuador and the local bishop here, Zwilling said.
He said it was his understanding that Ordonez had left the area for a time to visit family, although he did not have specifics.
An e-mailed message requesting comment from the Salesians in Ecuador was not immediately returned.
The Salesians in New Rochelle made clear yesterday Ordonez is not a member of their province. Brother Tom Dion said there were provinces in more than 130 countries.
The Rev. James Healy, pastor at St. Vito's Church, declined to comment Monday, before opening the door to the church as a signal that he wished a reporter to leave.
Jill Carelli, director of religious education at the church, said yesterday that St. Vito's had no comment.
During his arraignment in Village Court on Monday night, Ordonez asked repeatedly to speak with Healy.
Village Justice Dan Gallagher sent Ordonez to the Westchester County jail with a next court date of Dec. 18, which has since been changed to Thursday, police said.
According to a brief felony complaint filed with Village Court, Ordonez touched the victim's breasts and other intimate parts of her body "without her consent" and by "means of forcible compulsion" on New Year's Day 2004 at 816 Underhill Ave. That is the address of the church; Ordonez has a bedroom there.
Ordonez yesterday, through a jail official, declined a request for an interview with a Journal News reporter.
White Plains resident Lina Henao, a former St. Vito's parishoner, said yesterday that she and her family were upset by the news.
Henao said she and her family used to go to St. Vito's because they so enjoyed Ordonez's Spanish Masses.
But she stopped going after Ordonez suddenly stopped conducting the Masses in the spring, she said. She said she asked around throughout the church to find out where Ordonez was, but no one would tell her.
"I would ask people, and everybody would just give me the runaround and not tell me anything about him," Henao said.
She said her family used to have Ordonez over for lunch all the time.
"He would come over to the house, and we would cook lunch for him, and we would spend time with him. It wasn't just a church relationship. It was a friendship altogether," she said. "I can't imagine this being true. Of course we don't know what happened, but it's very disturbing and very sad."
Reach Christine Pizzuti at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-696-8291.
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