Oregon Priest, a Friend of Sacramento-Area Priest Accused of Molestation, Faces Similar Charges
By Cynthia Hubert
October 10, 2012
| The Rev. Uriel Ojeda, right, declines to answer questions after his release from jail in Sacramento last January. He has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of felony child abuse. |
They were as close as brothers.
The Rev. Uriel Ojeda and the Rev. Angel Perez took their spiritual training together at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon beginning in the late 1990s, and they shared a bond forged by similar cultural backgrounds and spiritual philosophies.
Both had roots in Mexico and ministered to heavily Latino congregations, Ojeda's in Northern California and Perez's near Salem in Oregon. Both were revered by their parishioners, who praised them for their tireless work on behalf of children and the poor and sick.
Both entered the priesthood at a time of turmoil in the Catholic Church over sexual-abuse scandals, and as the church eagerly sought to accommodate a growing Spanish-speaking congregation.
In the changing Catholic church, Ojeda and Perez were rising stars.
Until it all fell apart.
Today, separated by hundreds of miles, both priests stand accused of crimes against children that, if proved, could send them to prison and strip them forever of their collars and vestments.
In Sacramento County, Ojeda, 33, is facing charges of molesting a girl younger than 14 while he served at Holy Rosary parish in Woodland and Our Lady of Mercy parish in Redding between 2007 and 2009. He was arrested late last year and is free on bail. His trial is scheduled for December, but it is likely to be postponed until the spring of 2013, his lawyer said.
Perez, 46, has been held without bail in the Marion County jail since August, when he was arrested and charged with child abuse after a 12-year-old boy said he fondled him in the priest's living room in Woodburn, Ore. Police said he brought the child home from a church party, gave him beer and touched him after he fell asleep. Perez, who has yet to enter a plea, is a legal U.S. resident but not a citizen and could be deported if convicted.
Ojeda has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of felony child abuse. Prosecutors allege that the priest, who occasionally visited the girl's family home, inappropriately touched, hugged and kissed her during a two-year period ending in 2009. Ojeda "adamantly denies the accusations made against him," said his Sacramento lawyer, Jesse Ortiz.
In Oregon, Perez told police he was drunk and could not remember what happened on the night the Woodburn boy claims the priest fondled him.
Police said Perez, pastor of St. Luke Catholic Church in town, chased the boy down the street, wearing only his underwear, after the child fled the priest's home late that night. He later drove to the boy's home and apologized to his parents, according to a police affidavit. "He stated he got down on his knees and begged for forgiveness," the affidavit reads.
News of the criminal charges against the two priests, who visited each other's churches, vacationed together in Mexico and met each other's families, has shaken their church leaders and congregation.
Perez, who was ordained in 2002 in the Portland Diocese, served as a spiritual mentor to the younger Ojeda after they met in seminary. A day after he was ordained at Sacramento's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in 2007, Ojeda served the Eucharist for the first time with Perez by his side. On many occasions, Ojeda drove his yellow pickup truck to the Salem area to visit his friend.
The fact that both now stand accused of abusing children "is a sad coincidence," said Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Sacramento Diocese.
"Virtually everyone here is shocked that this has happened," said Bud Bunce, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Portland. "We have placed such a great emphasis on child protection, so to think that something like this could happen is stunning."