Marcos Breton: Former 'Rock Star' Priest Facing Trial As a Solitary Figure
By Marcos Breton
June 26, 2013
The crowds have left the side of Uriel Ojeda, the former "rock star" priest facing criminal charges that he sexually molested a young girl.
Roughly 18 months ago, more than 200 of his followers had jammed a Sacramento courtroom when seven criminal counts were filed against the Rev. Ojeda for allegedly abusing the 14-year-old daughter of a former parishioner.
Tall, young, handsome, Ojeda had been the focal point of many stories in The Bee before his arrest in November 2011. I had written about him as well because in September 2008, Ojeda had prayed over my father the night before he died.
This was personal. This was the man who was supposed to be the face of a new church moving beyond a national crisis of sexual abuse.
Instead, he became another accused priest. Some of the fervor of Ojeda's survivors when he was arrested was the very definition of worshipping falsely.
Back then, a near mob of Ojeda's friends sang and chanted on a downtown street corner in the hope that Ojeda would hear them from his cell in the Main Jail.
Some – but not all – were moved to stand in front of the courthouse doors as if to protect Ojeda from a prying media.
Like all priests, Ojeda is just a man. But some seemed to forget that only God is worthy of worship.
Anyway, that's over now.
The case is now focused on statements Ojeda made to diocesan officials just before his arrest. His former superiors say he confessed to the molestation allegations.
"The humanity of our institution comes painfully to bear whenever God's children are wounded or hurt by those charged with being ministers of God's grace," Bishop Jaime Soto told me on Monday.
"It's important to express sorrow that a minister of the church and one of my brothers has failed."
Attorney Jesse Ortiz, who represents Ojeda and is one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Sacramento, is seeking to have Ojeda's statements to diocesan officials barred from evidence as privileged information.
It's a legal question now: Were Ojeda's privacy rights violated when an investigator working for a diocesan law firm took statements from him – with another priest present – without telling Ojeda he had the right to a lawyer?
What exactly did Ojeda say? Did he confess to fondling the girl as prosecutors allege? Did he admit to entering her bedroom? Did he acknowledge acts that cannot be detailed in a family newspaper? We won't know until a judge rules, possibly next week.
But it's no wonder the crowds have gone away and the spell of worship is broken. Just a common man sits in a conservative suit as his freedom hangs in the balance.
This case has ground to an unholy place where no one wins or is redeemed.