Priest Gets 2 Years after Lewd-Act Plea

By Andrew J. Skerritt
The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)
April 12, 2003

YORK - A Roman Catholic priest was sentenced to serve two years in prison and two years' probation Friday for lewd acts on the 5-year-old daughter of one of the Hispanic families in his ministry.

Judge John C. Hayes III sentenced the Rev. Juan Carlos Castano after the 44-year-old Colombian cleric pleaded guilty to acting inappropriately with the girl while he supervised the child at her Rock Hill home in September or October 2000.

After the incident, the girl told her 10-year-old brother, who promptly told his mother. She later confronted Castano. The priest didn't deny the incident but never returned to the family's house after that, investigators said.

The victim's family reported the incident in February 2002 after the local parish circulated a questionnaire about how Castano's work among the area's Hispanic Catholics could be improved. Diocese of Charleston officials suspended Castano from clerical duties the same month. Since then, the Rev. Adilso Coelho of The Oratory in Rock Hill has been assigned to minister to the region's Hispanic Catholics.

Castano was arrested in March 2002 as the nation was wrapped up in the unfolding scandal involving Catholic priests accused of molesting young parishioners.

Sixteenth Circuit Assistant Deputy Solicitor Willie Thompson said once the victim's family came forward with the allegations, the Charleston Diocese hired a private investigator to whom Castano admitted his actions. The investigator then reported the incident to Rock Hill police.

Castano told investigators he fondled the girl through her clothes while he was baby-sitting after her mother went to work. The priest also said there was another incident in which he kissed a minor and was later confronted by the grandfather, but he denied committing any other acts against children, the statement said.

In an emotional plea Friday before the judge, the victim's mother asked for a stiff punishment.

"A person who is God's representative shouldn't do these things," the Spanish-speaker said tearfully through an interpreter. The mother said since the incident her daughter has regressed in her development, crying a lot and requiring counseling because of her mental state.

"It's not easy to do this. My heart is very heavy," she said. "We know we are doing the right thing. When someone doesn't act correctly, they deserve punishment."

As part of his sentence, Castano will be required to register as a sex offender and not be allowed to be around young children without another adult present. He also must undergo counseling and pay $ 808 restitution to the victim's family for wages lost as a result of his actions, Hayes said.

Thompson, who pushed for a maximum two-year prison sentence, said Castano violated a position of great trust.

"His actions affected a child, a family and the community. It had a chilling effect on people in the Hispanic community," Thompson said. "He was a man to whom people confessed sins and their deepest secrets."

In asking for leniency, Castano's attorney, York County public defender Harry Dest, portrayed the cleric as a sexually and socially naive person who has lived a sheltered life - from his boyhood in Bogota, Colombia, to entering a seminary at age 18 and being ordained into the priesthood 15 years later. Castano came to the United States in 1999.

Although not a member of the Oratorical order, he lived at The Oratory in Rock Hill, from where he served the growing population of Catholic Hispanics in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.

Dest said as a result of the plea agreement, Castano will be defrocked by the Catholic Church and deported from the United States.

"His life as he knows it is totally destroyed," Dest said.

However, Maria A. Aselage, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Charleston, said any proceedings to re-move Castano from the priesthood would have to be initiated by either the bishop of Charles-ton or the bishop of Columbia.

"He is suspended from ministry," Aselage said outside the courtroom after Friday's hearing. "He can't dress as a priest, and he can't perform sacraments."


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