Ex-Visalia priest on leave as Catholic Church investigates sex assault claims
By James Ward
March 4, 2019
A Roman Catholic priest who once served in Visalia was put on leave after new allegations surfaced about a Kings County sexual assault he was acquited of in 2002.
Bishop Armando Ochoa announced the news Sunday to parishioners about the Rev. Miguel Flores of east Bakersfield's St. Joseph Catholic Church.
"The current allegation relates to a previous allegation of sexual abuse of a minor that was litigated in 2002, at which time Fr. Flores was acquitted," Diocese spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez wrote in a press release. "The current disclosure is considered credible which gave cause to reopen a diocesan investigation into the matter."
In 2002, Flores was found not guilty of three counts of rape, two counts of witness intimidation and one charge of criminal threats for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Hanford.
The girl, who was hired by Flores to do clerical work, told police the priest assaulted her Feb. 16, 2002 in his living quarters at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
Flores has been a Catholic priest since 1995.
He has been at St. Joseph Church since 2007. Before that, he had also worked at churches in Arvin, Fresno, Tranquility, Orange Cove and Squaw Valley.
Flores' suspension came after the Diocese of Fresno announced in February it would review charges of sexual abuse by priests and other church officials dating back to 1922.
The Diocese has not yet decided if it would name any of the accused publicly, according to a press release.
The Diocese of Fresno stretches across eight counties, including Tulare, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa, and serves 1.2 million parishioners.
The Roman Catholic Church has been shaken worldwide by a wave of clergy sexual-abuse cases since 2002 when the Boston archdiocese was accused of ignoring years of warnings about priests accused of molesting 130 people.
In 2018, after a damning grand jury report uncovered 300 abusive priests in Pennsylvania, multiple state attorneys general have opened their own cases, and hundreds of new victims are expected to come forward across the U.S.
Sexual misconduct allegations have also led to criminal charges, settlements and resignations of priests in Ireland, Australia and several other countries.
Last month in Rome, Pope Francis held an unprecedented summit on preventing clergy sex abuse.
Summit recommendations included:
Coming up with rules for handling accusations against bishops.
Having priest candidates undergo psychological evaluations
Writing strict code of conduct rules for priests and lay people in the church
Forming an independent agency that victims can report crimes.
Speaking to senior church leaders, the pope called for a change in the church’s defensive mentality and a vow to never again cover up cases. The pope also said the church would seek to address widespread child abuse by family members, coaches, teachers and other relatives.
"Yet we need to be clear that while gravely affecting our societies as a whole, this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the church," Francis said in a statement issued by the Vatican. "The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility."
Some critics said the pope's commitment doesn't go far enough. They said the conference covered important ground that Francis seemingly ignored.
"Pope Francis' talk today was a stunning letdown, a catastrophic misreading of the grief and outrage of the faithful," Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit that tracks abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, said in a statement. "If the powerful testimonies of the past week moved the needle in the right direction, the pope today moved it back."
The Catholic church isn't the only high-profile institution to be roiled by sex abuse scandals.
Last month, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention promised to encourage reforms that protect children and women after a sweeping investigation published by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News found hundreds of victims of sexual misconduct by church leaders or volunteers.
In 2017, Dr. Larry Nassar pled guilty to abusing hundreds of gymnasts despite complaints to the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
The Boy Scouts of America has also faced a major sex scandal when a judge ordered the release of over 20,000 confidential documents revealing that over 1,000 leaders and volunteers had been banned after being accused of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys.