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  Priest in Hanford Denies Raping Teen Two Additional Rape Counts Are Filed in the Case

By Cindy Carcamo
Fresno Bee
April 10, 2002

A Catholic priest accused of raping a 16-year-old girl who worked at his church denied all charges against him Tuesday in Kings County Municipal Court.

The Rev. Miguel Flores, a priest at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Hanford, allegedly raped the girl three times, Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Hart said.

The girl was not identified because of her age and the nature of the charges.

Flores, 34, originally was charged with raping the girl at his church residence Feb. 16. On Tuesday, prosecutors added two more charges of rape that reportedly happened Jan. 2 and Feb. 9.

The priest also faces charges of witness intimidation, criminal threats and dissuading a witness, Hart said.

If convicted of all charges, Flores could spend up to 26 years behind bars.

Hart said Flores bought a car for the girl, who lives in San Joaquin and attends Tranquillity High School.

The girl reportedly started working for Flores in mid-January at his former parish, St. Paul Church in Tranquillity. She continued to assist Flores for two weeks after he transferred to the Hanford church earlier this year.

Flores' next court date is April 30, at which time the date for a preliminary hearing will be scheduled.

At the preliminary hearing, a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to order Flores to stand trial.

The case against Flores is one in a string of sexual-misconduct allegations nationwide against clergy in the Catholic Church.

Flores, who was arrested March 9 and has been free on $70,000 bail, wouldn't comment on the charges as he left the courthouse after Tuesday's arraignment.

About 20 people from the pastor's church and other congregations gathered at the courthouse in support of Flores.

"We are waiting for justice to be done," said Cristina Padilla, who attends a church in Delano. "We have all been praying for justice to be done. We are very positive. We are certain that everything will come to light."

Another parishioner from Delano was angered by the allegations.

"This family is only searching for money," Edelmira Hernandez said in Spanish of the 16-year-old girl and her family. "Why doesn't she show her face?"

Despite the charges brought against Flores, the priest's congregation is united, said member Connie Garcia.

"It just brought us more together," Garcia said. "We are all human. We're not guilty until proven guilty. We have to remember that we ought to love one another and not condemn. Only God can do that."

After the arraignment, about 15 people held hands in a circle outside the courthouse and prayed in Spanish.

Pedro Umana, a missionary priest, led the prayer group.

"I ask for justice to be done and for truth to be told," Umana said.

Richard Nieto, who attended Sacred Heart Church in Fresno when Flores was a pastor there, said he won't believe the allegations.

"He's a great priest," Nieto said. "He really took the time to protect the children. He just really cared about the church. He busted his tail to make sure he did the best that he could. God doesn't give these gifts or that kind of heart to evil people."

 
 

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