Catholic priest who served for Charleston Diocese pleads guilty to federal sex charge

The Post and Courier [Charleston SC]

August 10, 2023

By Caitlin Ashworth

A former Catholic priest who served in the Charleston Diocese pleaded guilty to the sexual exploitation of a child he met during his time as a visiting priest in South Carolina.

On Aug. 10, Jaime Adolfo Gonzalez-Farias, known as Father Gonzalez, admitted in federal court in Columbia that he traveled with an 11-year-old child out of state with the intent to engage in sexual activity.

He is awaiting sentencing and faces 10 years to life in prison.

The 68-year-old Chilean national moved to South Carolina in 2015 and served in various roles with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston during his five-year stint. Through the diocese, he served in Greer, Newberry, Laurens and Joanna.

In early 2020, Gonzalez-Farias met an 11-year-old child through this work as a visiting priest in South Carolina, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliott Daniels said following the plea hearing.

Daniels said the priest groomed the child, calling him nicknames and giving him gifts. One gift was a cellphone, which was later turned over to investigators. Gonzalez-Farias would text the child, telling him “I love you” and to be a good boy.

In November 2020, the priest took the child on a trip to Florida for a “beach vacation” where he sexually abused the child.

“During that trip, Gonzales-Farias masturbated in front of the minor victim, attempted to sexually assault the minor victim, and showed the minor victim pornography,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in a press release.

Daniels said the priest engaged in sexual misconduct with the child in both South Carolina and Florida, including touching genitalia, watching pornography, masturbating and showering.

After the trip to Florida, the child’s family reported to Catholic authorities that they thought the relationship with their child was inappropriate. The diocese then contacted the Laurens Sheriff’s Department. 

In late November 2020, Gonzalez-Farias was put on administrative leave regarding inappropriate interactions with a minor, but the allegation at the time was not sexual misconduct, the diocese said in a statement.

Early the next month, the priest returned to Chile for a pre-planned vacation, the diocese said. Soon after he left, the diocese said an allegation of sexual misconduct was reported against Gonzalez-Farias. The case was then handled by the sheriff’s office and FBI and his parishioners were notified about the abuse allegation the following month.

Gonzalez-Farias has been ordained as a priest since 1990 and has served in various roles including pastor, parochial vicar, administrator, chaplain and priest, according to the FBI. 

Between 2015 and 2020, he worked in South Carolina as a visiting priest of the Diocese of San Bernardo, Chile, according to church records. 

Upon his move in 2015, he cleared a background check and completed the diocesan mandated Safe Environment training, officials from the Charleston Diocese said.

He was rescreened in July 2020, a routine under diocesan policy, and no criminal activity was noted, according to the diocese.

During his five years with the Charleston Diocese, Gonzalez-Farias served at the Blessed Trinity Church in Greer, St. Mark Church in Newberry, Holy Spirit Mission in Laurens, and St. Boniface Church in Joanna. He was also chaplain at Tyger River Correctional Institute and Presbyterian College in Clinton, according to the diocese.

Gonzalez-Farias was arrested after he landed at the Miami International Airport in November 2022. Upon his arrest by FBI and U.S. Marshals Service, Gonzalez-Farias admitted that he showered with the child, touched the child’s genitals and showed the child pornography.

“I am grateful to law enforcement and legal authorities for their investigation and prosecution of this case,” said the Most Rev. Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, Bishop of Charleston. “I pray that anyone hurt by Gonzalez or any clergy will find healing and peace in Christ Jesus.”

The FBI’s Columbia Division has been investigating to see whether there are more victims. 

When asked whether more victims have come forward, the Columbia Division’s public affairs officer Kevin Wheeler said the agency cannot provide information on the status of the investigation.

“The FBI will continue to leave the door open for potential victims to report alleged crimes,” he said.