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  With No Efforts to Extradite Him, Priest Living Normal Life in Spain

By Evan Moore
Houston Chronicle
March 3, 1996

All that appears to stand between the Rev. Jesus Garcia and a reckoning is $ 7,000.

That amount is seemingly enough to keep the fugitive priest free, living in relative security in Spain.

There, he is out of a South Texas jail cell and courtroom where he is due to be tried on charges of raping one of the five young, male parishioners he is accused of assaulting during his 10 years in Mathis.

It's an appointment Garcia has been successfully avoiding since September 1994. During that period, the families of his accusers have charged the Catholic Church with meddling in the case and helping Garcia to escape. They also have accused San Patricio County District Attorney Tom Bridges of dragging his heels in deference to powerful South Texas Bishop Rene H. Gracida, head of the Diocese of Corpus Christi.

It has been a year and a half since Garcia fled Mathis in a late-night departure two days after Santos Olivarez Jr., then 18, accused the priest of raping him four years previously.

It has been almost that long since news arrived that Garcia had flown to his native Spain, with the knowledge and permission of Gracida.

It has been eight months since a San Patricio County grand jury indicted Garcia on charges of sexual assault and indecency with a child, eight months since Garcia sent a letter, politely and cheerfully declining to return to face those charges.

Today, Garcia remains free in Spain, reportedly living in his family home in Burdos near Madrid, reportedly still cheerful, reportedly still celebrating Mass in a Madrid church.

FBI agents say he could be brought back for $ 7,000.

Agents in Corpus Christi say they have known Garcia's whereabouts for months and have told Bridges that they are ready to arrest Garcia as soon as they receive that amount from the prosecutor's office to defray transportation costs.

"That's about what it will cost," said Agent Ralph Diaz of Corpus Christi. "But the district attorney hasn't been able to come up with the money. "

Bridges refuses to discuss Garcia in detail with the Houston Chronicle, other than to say that "the case is still active. "

"I'm using whatever means are available to me to get him here," said Bridges. "Other than that, I don't want to say anything. I don't want any further pretrial publicity in this case. "

There was little or no publicity in the case when it began in September 1994. That was when Olivarez Jr. told his parents that Garcia had drugged his milk during an overnight stay at the rectory in 1991 and assaulted him. After hearing his son's story, Santos Olivarez Sr. reluctantly said he also had been sexually molested twice by the priest.

The father said those incidents occurred during a 1994 trip to Rome, during which he shared a hotel room with Garcia. He said that twice he fell into a deep sleep after dining with Garcia and awoke to find evidence that he had been molested.

The Olivarezes said they first took their story to Gracida and the bishop acted surprised. Two days later, during the night of Sept. 15, 1994, Garcia abruptly left Mathis.

Later, other youths began to come forward, including Felix Cornejos, a young man who said he had been drugged and molested in 1993 by Garcia and had complained to Gracida at that time, only to see nothing done about the complaint.

(Cornejos and the Olivarezes have agreed to allow their names to be used publicly.)

Finally, the Olivarezes reported the assault to Bridges.

Garcia, who was in San Antonio at the time, was not immediately arrested, however. Shortly afterward, he flew to Spain.

Gracida, a normally outspoken bishop who has excommunicated church members for supporting abortion rights, has had little to say about the case.

Gracida is best known for having one of the richest dioceses in the nation, with the $ 80 million oil and gas rights of the Kenedy Ranch firmly under his control. He has controlled his own telecommunications center and television station and appeared regularly on his own program. But he has repeatedly declined interviews about Garcia.

His only response to queries about Garcia has been an unsigned statement to the Chronicle in June, in which he affirmed that he allowed Garcia to fly to Spain after being told by Bridges that there was not enough evidence at the time to arrest the priest.

Since then, several people from Mathis have reported seeing Garcia in Spain, speaking to him and attending services conducted by him in a church in Madrid.

Houston attorney David Berg, who represents a number of Garcia's accusers in a civil lawsuit against the priest, the diocese and Gracida, said he has been puzzled at Garcia's continued freedom and spoke to Bridges a week ago.

"All I can tell you is that Mr. Bridges said he was unable to ascertain a cost from the FBI for extraditing the priest," said Berg. "He said he was talking to somebody at the Texas attorney general's office about getting assistance and that his county wouldn't fund it until they heard from the AG's office.

"He said he was getting ready to put a deadline on the AG's office. " Bill Telford, assistant auditor for San Patricio County, said neither he nor County Auditor David Wendell had been aware of the cost of transporting the priest and there had been no refusal by the auditor's office to pay for the extradition.

A spokesman for the Texas attorney general's office said only two divisions of that office would be involved in extradition - the Prosecutors Assistance Division and the International Prosecution Unit -and neither had received any request for funds from San Patricio County.

 
 

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