Former SC priest accused of sexually assaulting 11-year-old pleads not guilty

The State [Columbia SC]

January 10, 2023

By Ted Clifford

The Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old child pleaded not guilty to the federal charges on Monday.

Jaime Adolfo Gonzalez-Farias, 68, appeared in shackles, his silver hair neatly combed, in a federal courtroom in Columbia, South Carolina, after being extradited from Florida. He has been charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a child, coercion of a minor and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

Wearing a dark green jumpsuit and bright orange plastic sandals, the Roman Catholic priest peered over his glasses as he waived reading of the indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliott Daniels, who is prosecuting the case, requested that Gonzalez-Farias be detained. Through his attorney, federal public defender Allen Burnside, Gonzalez-Farias stated that he was not contesting the detention at this time.

The court advised him that he had a right to file a motion at any time to schedule a hearing on the status of his detention.

He whispered yes when asked by Magistrate Judge Shiva Hodges if the information on his financial affidavit was accurate.

“I need you to speak up,” Hodges said.

“I have no voice,” Gonzalez-Farias replied in a hoarse whisper.

Hodges advised Gonzalez-Farias that, after reviewing his financial affidavit, it was a “close call” as to whether a federal public defender should be provided. However, she said that Gonzalez-Farias could continue to be represented by a federal public defender.

“The exploitation of children – particularly by those in positions of trust – will not be tolerated in our state,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs in a statement released Tuesday. “Our commitment to victims and survivors is that when they are met with abuse, offenders will be met with a full measure of accountability.”

Originally from Chile, Gonzalez-Farias began working in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston in 2015. Officially a “visiting priest,” Gonzalez-Farias ministered in “various parishes and ministries,” according to the indictment.

A statement released by the diocese in 2020 said that he was to be administrator of St. Mark Church in Newberry, Holy Spirit Mission in Laurens, and St. Boniface Mission in Joanna. He was also chaplain to Tyger River Correctional Institution and to Presbyterian College.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston said that it was “made aware of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor involving visiting priest Father Jaime Gonzalez-Farias in December 2020, after he had left the country for his home in Chile.”

If convicted, Gonzalez-Farias faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison for the charges of coercing a minor and transporting a minor for purposes of sex. The federal charge of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor carries a minimum of 30 years and up to life in prison.

The FBI has requested the public’s help in identifying more potential victims. The agency has urged members of the public to contact them at 803-551-4200 “if you believe you or your minor dependent(s) were victimized by Gonzalez-Farias, or if you have relevant information about Gonzalez-Farias the FBI should know.”

Gonzalez-Farias was arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s Service in Miami, Florida, on Nov. 29.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Laurens County Sheriff’s Department. Daniels and fellow Assistant U.S. AttorneyE. Elizabeth Major are prosecuting the case.

This story was originally published January 10, 2023 3:35 PM.