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  Archdiocese Questioned on Priest
New Britain Cleric Accused of Molestation Kept His Ministry, Disappeared

By Elizabeth Hamilton and Helen Ubinas
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
October 18, 2002

New information suggests that church and law enforcement officials in Connecticut were told in August that a New Britain priest was wanted in Costa Rica on molestation charges, yet allowed him to continue ministering until his disappearance last week.

The Rev. Enrique Vasquez, who fled Costa Rica in 1998 as prosecutors there were putting together a criminal case against him, disappeared from St. Mary Parish in New Britain on Oct. 10, seven weeks after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford first learned of the outstanding arrest warrant, according to a diocesan source.

The source also said the archdiocese allowed Vasquez to leave on a previously scheduled monthlong vacation to Mexico on Sept. 4 after receiving a copy of the warrant a week earlier. In addition, Vasquez was allowed to celebrate Mass several times upon returning from his vacation this month.

Bishop Peter Rosazza refused to answer any questions about when the archdiocese learned of the warrant. He did acknowledge, however, that Vasquez was allowed to continue ministering, including at an evening Mass the day after church officials told him he was being relieved of his duties.

When asked why Vasquez was allowed to celebrate Mass after he had been terminated, Rosazza said: "There is a very good explanation for that, but I'm not going to give it to you."

The suggestion that church officials knew in August of the Costa Rican warrant for Vasquez throws into question the archdiocese's previous explanation of how it handled the realization that a priest had been working in one of its parishes for three years while hiding from authorities in his home country.

For instance, after announcing on Sunday that Vasquez had been removed from his parish, the Rev. John Gatzak said the archdiocese first learned about the molestation charges while Vasquez was away on vacation. Gatzak also said the archdiocese was cooperating with Costa Rican authorities in an "investigation" of Vasquez.

However, Alba Campos Hernandez, the Costa Rican prosecutor who has been working the Vasquez case since 1998, said Thursday she has yet to be contacted by anyone in Connecticut -- including the FBI, whom the archdiocese said it contacted after learning of the arrest warrant.

"The first move by the diocese was to contact the FBI so they could take charge of the matter," said John Sitarz, an archdiocese attorney. "Both state and federal officials were notified."

The FBI declined to comment. The state's attorney's office in New Britain and the New Britain Police Department both said Thursday they had not received any information from the archdiocese or the FBI about Vasquez.

Vasquez began his job at the New Britain parish in 1999, church officials said, after the archdiocese received an "affidavit of suitability" from his Costa Rican diocese, Gatzak said last week. He was still attached to a diocese in Costa Rica, however.

Gatzak could not explain why Costa Rica would have issued such an affidavit after receiving the molestation accusation in 1998, but documents obtained by The Courant this week suggest that Costa Rican church officials were protecting Vasquez from prosecution in his homeland.

Hernandez, the Costa Rican prosecutor, wrote to Vasquez's superiors twice in 1998 seeking information about the priest's whereabouts. First they wrote back saying Vasquez was in New York for three years at a Hispanic parish. Then, when she persisted, they said they didn't know his precise address because they had spoken to him only by telephone.

According to the Costa Rican arrest warrant, Vasquez began abusing a 10-year-old boy in 1995, when he was a parish priest in the small town of Santa Rosa de Pocosol in San Carlos. He allegedly brushed his hand against a 10-year-old boy's genitals and told him they were "friends."

He then warned the boy not to tell anyone because "people would wonder what's wrong with the father," according to the warrant. The priest then befriended the boy and his family, which was easy to do because the child's mother worked in the parish.

The sexual abuse escalated over the next year, the warrant said, and Vasquez made up countless reasons to get the boy alone, such as taking him to run errands or up to his bedroom to "play." Once, when the boy's mother was cooking for a patron saint festival, the priest was allegedly molesting her son in the next room.

Vasquez apparently got caught when another parish priest told the boy's mother that he saw Vasquez, shirtless, lying next to her son in the rectory.

The mother took her son to a psychologist, where for the first time he accused Vasquez of fondling him, but she didn't confront the priest because she was afraid. When her son began to act strangely and his grades began to suffer, however, she took him to a psychiatric hospital and confronted Vasquez, who told her that her son had "mental problems."

When confronted last week by church officials in New Britain, Vasquez denied the allegations against him.

 
 

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