Former Harford County priest pleads guilty to coercion and enticement of a minor

Catholic Review - Archdiocese of Baltimore [Baltimore MD]

October 6, 2021

By George Matysek

Fernando Cristancho, a former priest assigned to St. Ignatius, Hickory, in Forest Hill, pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, according to an Oct. 5 news release from the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office. Cristancho met the victim through the parish. He also admitted that he produced nude images of four other minor victims.

The offenses against “John Doe” occurred when he was 11, 12 and 13, according to the news release. Cristancho showed the victim pornography and after Cristancho was no longer working at the church, he arranged to hold religious services in the home of a parishioner, with John Doe acting as a lector or altar server. Cristancho sexually abused the child from 2002 through at least fall 2003, according to the news release.

An Oct. 5 statement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore said the archdiocese “admires the courage and strength of the survivor in this case and all survivors who come forward in order to help ensure perpetrators are held responsible for committing their unthinkable crimes.”

The statement also noted that the archdiocese recognizes guilty pleas “do not erase the pain suffered by survivors, but does pray that this plea will contribute to healing.”

According to a 2008 statement from the archdiocese, Fernando Cristancho was a priest of the Diocese of Istmina-Tado, Colombia. Cristancho’s assignment in the Archdiocese of Baltimore was at St. Ignatius, Hickory, from 1999 to 2002. In July 2002, Cristancho refused an assignment to another parish from Cardinal William H. Keeler, then Archbishop of Baltimore, which led to the revocation July 8, 2002 of his faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Representatives of the archdiocese met Sept. 26, 2002 with the Catholic community at St. Ignatius for a town hall meeting. Cardinal Keeler wrote to Cristancho’s bishop in Colombia about the revocation of Cristancho’s faculties and urged that Cristancho be permanently dismissed from the clerical state. 

Cristancho, 65, has had no assignment and has not been permitted to function as priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore since July 2002. 

“It was subsequent to the revocation of his faculties to function as a priest that the archdiocese learned that Cristancho had fathered triplets with a woman through in-vitro fertilization, and much later that he was accused and found by a court to have sexually abused two of his children,” the 2008 statement said.

Cristancho and the government have agreed that, if the court accepts the Oct. 4, 2021, plea agreement, Cristancho will be sentenced to between 10 years and 25 years in federal prison, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander has scheduled sentencing for Dec. 20, 2021, at 10 a.m. As part of his plea agreement, upon his release from prison, Cristancho must register as a sex offender in the places he resides, where he is an employee and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.  

The Archdiocese of Baltimore said it is committed to protecting children and helping to heal victims of abuse. 

“We urge anyone who has any knowledge of any child sexual abuse to come forward, and to report it immediately to law enforcement,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “If clergy or other church personnel is suspected of committing the abuse, we ask that you also call the Archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection Victims’ Assistance Hotline at 1-866-417-7469.”

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