|Prayer Vigil Tonight at Our Lady of Mercy in Redding in Wake of Molestation Charges
By David Benda
December 2, 2011
A Redding priest who faces seven counts of child molestation in Sacramento County appeared briefly in court today but did not enter a plea.
Instead, The Rev. Uriel Ojeda, 32, confirmed his name and that he knows the identity of his accuser, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The charges stem from accusations made by a 14-year-old girl about encounters that allegedly occurred in Sacramento on four dates in 2007 and 2009.
About a dozen of Ojeda's supporters attended the hearing, the Bee reported.
Ojeda had been assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Redding for two years, but has now been suspended, Sacramento Roman Catholic diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said today.
Our Lady of Mercy parishoners gathered at the Shasta View Drive church at 8:30 p.m.tonight for a prayer vigil organized in reaction to Ojeda's arrest.
Ojeda turned himself in Wednesday after the diocese received a complaint from a parishioner's family, Bishop James Soto announced Thursday. He was booked at the Sacramento County Jail with bail set at $5 million.
Diocese spokesman Eckery said Ojeda became acquainted with the alleged victim's family through his work as a priest in Sacramento.
Earlier today Our Lady Mercy pastor, The Rev. Jonathan Molina, expressed shock and sadness over the charges.
Molina, 34, said his parish family's prayers go out the accuser's family and Ojeda's family.
"It's very devastating. It really breaks your heart," said Molina, who has been pastor at Our Lady Mercy since 2009, the same year Ojeda came to the church. "It hurts when this happens to someone so close to you. There's really not much more you can do at this time than pray."
Molina said he saw Ojeda on Tuesday night and spoke to him as Ojeda was heading to the grocery store.
"He asked me if I wanted anything. He was getting some milk," Molina said.
There was no indication at the time that Ojeda was going to turn himself in to police the next day.
"I didn't get a clue," Molina said.
Locally, Ojeda was involved with the Shasta Deanery, a youth group that combined parishes in Redding, Anderson and Red Bluff.
The group disbanded earlier this year after its leader resigned, Molina said. Molina didn't say why the group no longer exists, other than to say "it's hard to identify a leader."
Molina described Ojeda as a charismatic leader and speaker who related well with the parish's younger audience.
Since news broke of Ojeda's arrest, Molina's parish has received many calls from concerned parishioners.
"Lots of support," Molina said of the phone calls. "I am sure there will be the other reaction, but so far our office has received support and prayers."
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