West Texas Priest Faces Child Sex Charges

By Shanna Sissom
June 6, 2002

BIG LAKE - A West Texas priest charged with sexually abusing a Big Lake girl in the late 1980s and early 1990s now faces multiple felony charges and an uncertain future.

The Rev. Miguel Esquivel, 49, was booked earlier this week and has since been released on a $25,000 bond, according to Reagan County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tom Hain.

His charges include two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, two counts of indecency with a child and four counts of sexual assault on a child.

The first charge pertains to allegations of penetration on a child 14 or younger. Indecency with a child involves sexually fondling a child or sexual exposure to a minor.

Hains said the priest allegedly sexually assaulted the victim inside a Big Lake church and at "various other locations" in Reagan County.

The victim, now in her mid-20s, reported the allegations to church officials and authorities about two months ago.

Esquivel, who had recently been working as a prison chaplain at La Tuna prison in New Mexico, had ministered in various counties throughout West Texas, according to Louis Fohn, attorney for the San Angelo Diocese.

Bishop Michael Pfeifer said Esquivel had also served in Odessa at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. The priest also spent time stationed in Abilene, San Angelo, Fort Stockton and Big Lake, where the victim grew up.

Pfeifer confirmed there had been previous allegations of sexual misconduct against Esquivel, though not involving children and none had been criminally pursued by the those who complained

"I am afraid there may be other victims and we encourage anyone with information about this man to come forward," Hain said.

Hain said the young woman came forward in order to heal.

"I got the impression she needed to heal, that this was something she needed to do for her," Hain explained. "I just think it was probably a lot of soul searching and trying to get on with her life."

Pfeifer removed Esquivel from active duty after he refused to complete a church-ordered evaluation.

"Any such misconduct is abhorrent and never to be condoned, it is contrary to every Christian standard and violates a sacred trust," Pfeifer said in a prepared statement.

In referencing a national crisis of sexual assault against children at the hands of some priests, the bishop said the Roman Catholic Church in America is currently "in her darkest hour."

"Our hearts are deeply troubled, and our faith is sorely tested by the way in which some of our clerics have repeatedly failed in their vocation to love and protect the vulnerable members of the Body of Christ," Pfeifer explained.

"How can a priest or bishop possibly subject a child to sexual abuse and the physical and psychological harm that comes in its wake how can the same person who can do so much good yet cause soul-scarring harm," Pfeifer said.

"The incidents in the center of this current crisis involve an uncertain mixture of sickness, sin, fear, self-deception, rationalization, errors in judgment that is the mark of a fallen humanity."

The bishop said he was "very sad" the woman had not reported the allegations sooner.

Pfeifer said he offered to pay for counseling, and that the victim indicated she would attend.

Pursuant to new legislation in recent years, child victims of sexual assault have up to 10 years after their 18th birthday to report abuse, Midland County First Assistant District Attorney Teresa Clingman confirmed.

Pfeifer said the woman had previously talked to two police officers about her allegations and he encouraged her to pursue her report.

"His primary concern is for the well being and good of the woman," Fohn explained. "Bishop Pfeifer instructed me and all others that he wants to deal with this openly and candidly," he added. "He prays justice will be done."

The sheriff's office said the diocese was "very helpful and completely cooperative" during the course of its investigation.

"In dealing with this critical crisis, we cannot forget the tremendous amount of good done by the thousands and thousands of faithful and dedicated priests, especially for children both in the United States and around the world," the bishop said.

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