|Bishop Warns Town of Pedophile Priest
By Virginia Hennessey
December 16, 2011
Pedophile priest Antonio Cortes is in his hometown in Mexico, according to a letter from Bishop Richard Garcia to his counterpart there.
Garcia warned that Cortes is believed to be in the small town of Zacoalco de Torres, Jalisco, Mexico, and should not be in ministry. Cortes' attorney said he is vacationing.
A Salinas judge issued a no-bail arrest warrant Wednesday for Cortes for allegedly failing to report to a probation officer and register as a sex offender when he was released from jail Nov. 15. If he returns to Monterey County and is found in violation of his probation, the priest could be sentenced to three years in prison.
"Fr. Antonio Cortes has been convicted of sodomizing a child and possession of child pornography in the United States," Garcia wrote to Bishop Braulio Rafael Leon Villegas on Nov. 22. "At the time of his arrest in 2009, I suspended him from ministry and he is forbidden to function in any way as a priest.
"Please do not allow him to function as a priest in your Diocese," wrote Garcia, who has requested the Vatican "laicize," or defrock, Cortes.
Diocese of Monterey spokesman Tom Riordan said Villegas has since responded, thanking Garcia for informing him and assuring him he will keep an eye on Cortes.
Judge Pamela Butler released Cortes' passport Nov. 16 at the request of his attorney, Miguel Hernandez. Neither the judge nor Hernandez apparently was aware he was released from Monterey County Jail the day before.
Hernandez said he didn't know Cortes planned to leave the country, or was even out of jail, when he asked for the priest's passport at the request of one of his "supporters." Cortes surrendered the document as a condition of his original release on bail.
"That was his one form of identification. I did what I do in every situation when somebody wants their property back," he said. "I feel really bad. I would never do anything untoward or unethical."
Hernandez said he had doesn't know if Cortes plans to return, noting he alerted the priest via e-mail there is a warrant for his arrest.
Cortes' apparent ability to email could be a violation of his probation, which forbids him from having access to any computer connected to a network or which has the ability to access the internet.
Hernandez said he did not think the intent of the condition was to prohibit his client from communicating with his lawyer.
Cortes was arrested in April 2009 after a 16-year-old parishioner reported he was sexually assaulted during a "spiritual massage" in the rectory of St. Mary of the Nativity in Salinas, where Cortes was pastor. Police found child pornography on electronic equipment seized in a search of his home and office.
He pleaded no contest in March to felony charges of sodomy involving a minor and possession of child porn, as well as 12 misdemeanor counts including child molestation, child endangerment, furnishing alcohol to a minor and committing lewd acts in the presence of a minor.
He was sentenced in May to three years probation and one year in county jail. With credit for time served before his conviction and good-time credits, prosecutor Rolando Mazariegos said Cortes was released Nov. 15.
As expected, Hernandez said, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took him into custody pending deportation proceedings, but released him after learning his case was being appealed.
Cortes was in this country legally, but can be deported because of his felony convictions.
"He was released unexpectedly and then decided to go to Mexico anyway to visit," he said.
The passport was released the next day and Hernandez said one of Cortes' supporters picked it up at his law office.
"I thought it was for future use," Hernandez said Thursday of the passport request. "I had no idea he had been released."
Riordan of the diocese said his office subsequently was informed Cortes was living in Zacoalco de Torres and Garcia immediately alerted his counterpart in the Diocese of Ciudad Guzman in Jalisco, Mexico.
Earlier Thursday, Joelle Casteix, western director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, faulted the Diocese of Monterey and the Catholic Church for not doing more to protect children here and abroad.
"Time and again, Catholic bishops do little or nothing to stop" pedophile priests from fleeing to their homelands, where they are unsupervised, she said.
Casteix said Catholic officials could protect children by warning accused clerics they will encourage other victims to file criminal and civil complaints against them if they flee. She said the church should move promptly to defrock convicted pedophiles so they won't get church paychecks.
"Their statement is so far from the truth in the Monterey Diocese," Riordan said of SNAP.
All diocese employees and teachers have been told to contact law enforcement first if they receive a report, or even a rumor, of child abuse, he said.
"We take an abundance of caution to protect children," said Riordan. "We're doing our best to live it every day."
Cortes' $2,500 monthly stipend ended the day he was sentenced and he has had no authority to act as a priest since his arrest, he said. The Vatican has not informed the diocese how quickly the request to defrock Cortes will proceed.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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