Abuse by Priest in Rock Hill Is Alleged
Diocese Suspends Cleric after Report of Sexual Contact with a Minor

By Diane Suchetka
Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)
March 5, 2002

Rock Hill police have confirmed that they are investigating a priest who has been suspended by the Catholic Church because of allegations he had sexual contact with a minor.

The priest, the Rev. Juan Carlos Castano, served the Hispanic communities in Rock Hill, York and Lancaster, according to a church spokesman. He also volunteered for Room at the Inn, a Catholic home in Charlotte for single, homeless pregnant women and their children.

The diocese says it is aware of one alleged victim.

"One family has come forward to the diocese with information," said John Carroll, spokesman for the Diocese of Charleston, which covers all of South Carolina. The diocese, he says, has investigated and turned information over to Rock Hill police.

Police say they have assigned the case to a detective, who was unavailable for comment Monday night.

Castano, who was living at a Catholic retreat center in Rock Hill called The Oratory, also could not be reached for comment.

Out of respect and for the sake of confidentiality, Carroll said, the diocese would not release any information about the alleged victim or the alleged victim's family.

"The bishop is very distressed at this news, but is doing everything possible to protect children," he said.

"The bishop and the Diocese of Charleston have zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children."

The sexual misconduct of Roman Catholic priests is gaining attention across the country because of a case in the Archdiocese of Boston involving John Geoghan, a 66-year-old former priest accused of molesting as many as 130 children. He was recently sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison for groping a 10-year-old boy.

Outrage escalated in that case because archdiocese leaders knew about allegations against Geoghan and did little more than move him from parish to parish over 30 years. The archdiocese reportedly paid more than $10 million to victims in about 50 cases involving Geoghan.

In the S.C. case, though, the diocese moved quickly after becoming aware of the accusation on Feb. 25, Carroll said.

"We did exactly as our policy outlines," he said. "The very first thing we do is check to see if we think the allegation is credible. Once that was determined credible, Father Castano was removed from public ministry. And once that was done, we cooperated fully with the civil authorities."

Carroll said the incident was alleged to have occurred sometime within the past five months in the Rock Hill area.

The diocese has offered to pay for counseling for the alleged victim and the alleged victim's family, Carroll said.

Castano, believed to be in his 40s, arrived at The Oratory in Rock Hill, home to a dozen Catholic brothers and priests, in May 1999, without invitation and asked to serve there, according to Carroll.

Castano is a native of Colombia, and was ordained as a priest in the religious order known as Oratorians, he said.

The Oratory contacted Castano's bishop in the town of Ipiales, Colombia, who provided a recommendation and confirmed that he was in good standing there.

"Even a law enforcement check turned up nothing," Carroll said.

So Castano was given a three-year "visiting" or probationary status at The Oratory, which was to end this May.

He was active in the Hispanic ministry in the area, and celebrated Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Rock Hill, Divine Saviour Catholic Church in York and St. Catherine Catholic Church in Lancaster, according to Carroll. No details were available about how or if he was involved with children there.

Cindy Brown, executive director of Room at the Inn in Charlotte, said Castano celebrated Mass there four times and assisted in ministering to two Hispanic clients, both adults.

"Room at the Inn has no knowledge of the allegations against Father Castano nor have any allegations of misconduct on the part of Father Castano been made by Room at the Inn clients," Brown said.

This is the second incident of alleged sexual misconduct for the S.C. diocese in the past 12 months. Last summer, a priest in Georgetown, S.C., was charged with third-degree sexual misconduct in a child pornography case. He has not yet gone to trial.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.