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  'This Is a Very Painful Time for Us'
Removal of Priest Stuns Parish

By Joann Klimkiewicz
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
October 15, 2002

New Britain — News of a Roman Catholic priest's removal from a city church after an allegation of sexual abuse0 rippled through the community Monday, stunning parishioners and those who worked with him.

The Hartford archdiocese ended the Rev. Enrique Vasquez's assignment as parochial vicar of St. Mary's Church after authorities in his native Costa Rica disclosed a 1995 charge that he molested a 10-year-old boy there.

"This is a very painful time for us," Bishop Peter Rosazza said Monday. He recalled greeting a number of shaken and teary parishioners at the church Sunday, after delivering the news during a Spanish-language Mass.

In recent weeks, Costa Rican authorities told the archdiocese that they have been searching for Vasquez since he disappeared in 1999 — about a year after the boy's family reported the alleged abuse in the small town of Santa Rosa de Pocosol in San Carlos.

"I was shocked and upset. I knew him, I thought, quite well," Rosazza said.

The archdiocese had received an "affidavit of suitability" signed by officials in the Diocese of Ciudad Quesada, where Vasquez came from and is still assigned, Rosazza said. The document attests to a priest's qualifications, moral character and professionalism, said the Rev. John P. Gatzak, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

It is still unclear why church officials in Costa Rica did not disclose the allegation in the affidavit. People who answered the phone at Vasquez's diocese in Costa Rica were aware of the priest and the circumstances but said no one was available for comment. Vasquez's whereabouts are unknown, Gatzak said.

Churchgoers leaving a noon Mass at St. Mary's on Monday said they were saddened to hear about Vasquez and the allegations of abuse. They said they would continue to keep him in their prayers.

"We all loved him," said a Kensington woman, who, chatting with two others from the church, noted that misconduct had not yet been proved. "You never saw a more holy priest anywhere. He said a beautiful Mass."

A New Britain woman, her eyes red with tears, said she did not know Vasquez personally. But she was shaken to hear another allegation of misconduct by a priest. "I am very sad about it. I'm so sad that I skip the articles [in the newspaper]. There are so many of these, it's a drop in the bucket what we know."

With the offices of the Hartford archdiocese closed Monday for Columbus Day, Gatzak said no new information on the case or on Vasquez was available. He has said that the archdiocese is cooperating with the investigation in Costa Rica, though he did not know specifics.

Gatzak said no charges had been made against Vasquez locally.

Rosazza said Vasquez's removal was in line with both the charter established after the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas and with the archdiocese's policy, adopted in 1990, calling for administrative leave when a credible case of sexual misconduct is brought to light. Since Vasquez was not a priest of the archdiocese, the decision was to end his assignment.

"I think you're going to see a major attempt to put children first, not only with the Archdiocese of Hartford, but across the country," Gatzak said. "We certainly hope and pray that there are no further incidents of such abuse within our church, and that the church can take steps in the broader community ... to find a solution to child sexual abuse no matter where it occurs."

 
 

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