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  Father Juan Bazelar Found Innocent on Four Counts of Sexual Abuse

By Tom Rue
River Reporter
August 10, 1995

MONTICELLO - Father Juan Bazalar, formerly a priest at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Monticello, was acquitted by a jury on six charges stemming from allegations that he sodomized an alter boy four years ago.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on misdemeanor counts of sodomy and endangering the welfare of a minor.

A celebration picnic planned by Bazelar's supporters to be held at Lake Superior Park on Sunday was canceled due to rain.

During the trial, the alleged victim — now 19 — faced hours of grueling defense examination. A stuffed chair in which the sodomy is said to have occurred was brought into the court room for a mock reenactment, over the objection of assistant district attorney Tina Minauskas.

The boy claimed Bazelar fondled him on three occasions at church and sodomized him in the parish's sun-room.

Jurors deliberated a day and a half, according to a trial observer. Nine reportedly favored innocence, while three believed he was guilty.

District Attorney Steven Lungen said his office has not yet decided whether to renew charges on the counts which the jury could not resolve.

Bazelar has already served three years since being sentenced to 5 to 15 on May 3, 1993. Those convictions were overturned on January 5, 1995 when the Appellate Division ruled that interim County Court Judge Angelo Lomanto erred by refusing to allow defense witnesses to testify that a priest who claimed Bazelar made a confession to him did not speak Spanish.

A central issue of the trial revolved around the Spanish word "aparte," which Bazelar said he used in a conversation privately with the late Father Daniel Croston, who evidently misinterpreted Bazelar to be saying he touched the alleged victim's 'private parts.' Bazelar's lawyer successfully argued that he was actually asserting he had 'no part' in the offense.

Witnesses testified Croston spoke only halting Spanish and could not have clearly understood Bazelar's words. Croston died of lung cancer in October 1994.

Valdivia said the fact Bazelar could have escaped prosecution by fleeing to his native Peru, but chose not to, supports his feeling that Bazelar is innocent. "They would never arrest a priest in Peru! They would never believe these charges — not in Peru," Valdivia asserted.

Valdivia voiced disappointment with the Archdiocese of New York for "closing the door in [Bazelar's] face," in contrast to support for American priests facing similar charges.

Greenwald said a proposed $425,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed by the youth's parents against the archdiocese provided a motive to lie. Witnesses who know the boy testified he is sometimes untruthful and has a history of illicit drug use.

The accusations ripped the fabric of the local Catholic community.

One Hispanic observer criticized the daily print media for repeatedly stressing Bazelar's national origin in its coverage. While language was an issue in the trial, nativity was not.

Describing himself as a parishioner since 1965, Valdivia said Bazelar is the first Spanish-speaking priest at St. Peter's in his memory. He said he first became convinced of Bazelar's innocence when he visited him in the Sullivan County Jail in 1993. "I just came in, man to man, and said 'Father Juan, Did you do it?' He said 'No,' and I believed him 100%. I still do."

Valdivia said he and his wife Teresa helped gather funds to pay legal bills. Greenwald picked up the case from John Ferrara of Monticello, who filed the initial appeal after the case was lost by William Flynn. Flynn has since moved to Hawaii.

Teresa Valdivia raffled off a gold chain to raise money, bringing in about $1500. An event was held at the Elks Lodge and numerous donors contributed cash. In the neighborhood of $4000 was raised from community sources, Moises Valdivia said.

"Most of the money the family put up," he added, noting that Bazelar's mother and three siblings live in the region.

Due to the remaining charges pending against him, Bazelar said his attorney had instructed him not to comment. Greenwald was unavailable.

"Father Juan still wants his name cleared," Valdivia stressed, noting that he and a flock of other Monticello faithful will provide support for as long as it takes to see this happen.

 
 

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