Charged Priest May Be Deported

Deseret News (Salt Lake City)
June 3, 2003

An Ogden priest charged with enticing a minor over the Internet may be deported back to his native Colombia, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City told KSL Radio on Monday. The diocese has said it will no longer support the work visa of the Rev. Mario Arbelaez Olarte, former assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Ogden.

Olarte pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge during his May 27 arraignment, but the diocese had already relieved him of all priestly duties. He can no longer present himself as clergy and cannot say Mass in the United States. But that may not stop him from serving as a Catholic minister in Colombia, according to diocesan spokeswoman Monica Howa-Johnson.

Olarte was arrested May 15 after he allegedly planned to meet with a person he met in an online gay chatroom. The person presented himself in the chatroom as a 15-year-old boy, who in reality was an undercover police officer who later met the priest on an Ogden street corner the two had discussed during their online conversation.

The diocese immediately placed Olarte on administrative leave, but the Vatican has yet to officially defrock him. So, Howa-Johnson told KSL, the incident may not stop him from presiding over a Latin American parish.

"It all depends on the laws of Colombia and how the church functions there," she said. But "it's very rare that a diocese would take a priest that has allegations like this against him."

Olarte's pretrial hearing is set for June 24. Since he will no longer have a valid work permit in the United States, he could be sent back to Colombia after the conclusion of his court case.


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