Permanently Dismissed: Diocese Removes Former Priest

Tyler Morning Telegraph
November 18, 2006

A convicted child rapist was formally barred from the priesthood nearly three years after receiving a life sentence for his crimes, said Catholic East Texas in its Nov. 17 edition.

"Catholic East Texas" is the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler.

Suspended and imprisoned priest Gustavo de Jesus Cuello has been "laicized, or permanently dismissed from the clerical state," said the paper. The action was taken by the Right Rev. Alvaro Corrada del Rio, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler for the repeated rape of a 13-year-old parishioner.

Cuello originally was arrested in 1997 for the aggravated sexual abuse of a child, whom he victimized in the office at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Tyler before services on Wednesday and Friday. To avoid prosecution, Cuello fled to Ecuador, where he married and had two daughters.

Then-Tyler Morning Telegraph reporter Anne Wright's inquiries in 2003 about Cuello's status as a fugitive was instrumental in refocusing attention on the case that lay dormant for nearly seven years. The FBI recaptured Cuello in Ecuador in July 2003.

The victim, a sixth-grader and altar girl at the church, was abused by Cuello "one or two times a week for six to eight months," according to Cuello's confession to the FBI after he was rearrested. During the emotional trial, defense attorneys called witnesses from the church who testified they partially blamed the victim. One Cuello supporter, Ms. Wright reported, labeled the victim, "the whore who raped the priest."

Nothing could be further from the truth, said the Rev. Gavin Vavarek, promoter of justice for the diocese on Thursday.

"That's part of the classic manipulation that a sexual predator weaves around himself for protection," said Vavarek. "The predator not only grooms the victim for abuse, but he gathers support around him so if he is caught, there are those who try to protect him. Fortunately, in this case, there were not a lot of supporters for him and the civil authorities were able to apprehend Cuello. He is where he belongs today, and he's been removed from the priesthood. It's the community, the people of Tyler, who suffer in situations like this."

Corrada made a statement at the time of Cuello's trial.

"I disagree with any parishioner who has said the victim in this case is to be blamed for the actions of this priest," he said. "This is about a priest using his priestly authority to manipulate and destroy the life of a victim..."

The nearly 36-month decision to dismiss the priest was due to a "backlog," said Vavarek.

"If you recall, there were a large number of clerical abuse cases in the U.S. two years ago," he said. "Each case has to be reviewed by the Holy See to avoid anyone being railroaded. There was a backlog of cases to be reviewed. Letters have to be written, requests made and procedures to follow."

And Culleo was safely in prison, said Vavarek.

"There was no extreme urgency for this to be done," he said.

As a result of the Cuello case and Catholic clerical abuses reported throughout the nation, a promoter of justice was established in the Diocese of Tyler and Vavarek was put in charge. An abuse "hotline" also was established.

"I'm glad to say that it hardly ever rings," Vavarek said. "We've had at least six cases where trained parishioners have recognized some child abuse in their communities and where Child Protective Services was called in. The awareness has taken hold, and people are paying a lot more attention. Next spring we'll be teaching a course in Longview on the socio-ministerial ethics. Our diocese is a big territory to cover, but we're doing well."


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