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  Priest Cleared in Sex Case
But He's Banned from Serving in Detroit Parishes

By Patricia Montemurri
Detroit Free Press
January 14, 2005

Although a jury acquitted the former pastor of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Detroit of molesting a 7-year-old boy, the Rev. Luis Javier de Alba Campos remains banned from wearing a clerical collar or serving as a priest in this area while the Archdiocese of Detroit continues its own review of the abuse allegation.

"Thanks to God. Thanks to the community. Thanks to my attorneys," de Alba Campos said Thursday, moments after a Wayne County Circuit Court jury returned not-guilty verdicts on two counts of criminal sexual misconduct.

De Alba Campos, 50, a visiting priest from Mexico who was assigned to St. Gabriel last February, said he would like to remain as a priest in the Detroit area "because it has a huge, beautiful Latino community ... and they need spiritual help."

But Ned McGrath, an archdiocese spokesman, said the church's procedures for dealing with abuse accusations against priests will resume. He said Catholic officials suspended an internal review when Detroit police and Wayne County prosecutors were notified of the possible criminal behavior last spring.

"No public ministry. He's not supposed to present himself as a priest, wear a collar" or say mass for anybody but himself, McGrath said.

But if the priest decides to return to his home diocese in Mexico, "he would be a priest of good standing" and not bound by those restrictions, McGrath said.

Since church authorities removed de Alba Campos from his parish position in June, he has been banned from public ministry. McGrath would not speculate about how long the review will take or whether de Alba Campos will ever be allowed to work as a priest in the archdiocese.

It would be up to his supervising bishop in Jalisco, Mexico, as to whether de Alba Campos could work as a priest in Mexico, McGrath said.

Although U.S. bishops have adopted guidelines to prevent priests with credible abuse allegations against them from working as priests in this country, bishops in Mexico are not bound by those regulations.

"As we're resolving this matter in Detroit, he needs to be here," McGrath said. "But we can't order him to be here. We just don't have that kind of control."

The not-guilty verdicts were reached just 15 minutes after the jury of seven women and five men returned to court Thursday morning after deliberating for 90 minutes on Wednesday.

De Alba Campos closed his eyes and threw his head back as the jury foreman, a University of Michigan law student, twice intoned "not guilty."

Two dozen supporters of the priest wept with joy and some made the sign of the cross. The boy and his family were not in the courtroom.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lora Weingarden, who handled the case, appeared stunned by the acquittal. She asked Judge Patricia Fresard to poll each juror individually, and one by one they repeated "not guilty."

"I have no idea why they reached the verdict. The consensus of anyone watching the case was that he was guilty," Weingarden said afterward. She had no comment on whether the priest should be allowed to work in a parish again.

"I know he should never be alone with a little boy again," she said. "If I was a parishioner and he gets his job back, I hope those parishioners keep their eyes open and watch their children."

The boy testified that the priest fondled him as the two slept together, after the priest got drunk while visiting the boy's home and was invited to spend the night by the boy's parents. The priest took the stand to defend himself, admitting he was drunk and showed poor judgment to sleep with the boy, but denying that he fondled the youth.

One juror, Susan Maveal of Southgate, said she voted for acquittal, even though she found the boy's testimony credible. "I believe him. I think he did a fantastic job," Maveal said.

"There just wasn't enough evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt" to convict the priest, Maveal said. But she said she and some other jurors "personally think he did it, and he's guilty."

She said the priest displayed "despicable character" by going to a parishioner's house, getting drunk and sleeping with the boy.

De Alba Campos, who speaks little English and whose comments were translated with the help of supporters, said he wanted "to apologize to the family for having drank too much" after going to the family's home to bless it. The boy's family was reluctant to pursue criminal charges against the priest. During testimony, both parents said they believed their son had suffered no long-term effects.

It was at least the fifth trial in Detroit since 2002 in which charges of sex abuse involving minors were brought against men who worked as priests in the Detroit Archdiocese.

In four other cases, the men were convicted of abuse, some of which had occurred decades earlier.

 
 

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