Cleric Removed from Priesthood
Tulia Priest Defrocked Because of Child-Sex Prison Term

By Brandi Dean
Amarillo Globe-News
February 6, 2005

A former priest of Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulia accused of sexual abuse was recently removed from the priesthood by the Vatican.

The Rev. Michael Colwell, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo, said the diocese received word about a week ago that Pope John Paul II had made the final decision to end John Salazar's employment as a result of proven inappropriate sexual behavior with a minor in California in the late 1980s.

Salazar pleaded guilty to two child-sex related charges in Los Angeles in 1987. He served three years in prison and was released to a treatment program for sex offenders before coming to the Amarillo diocese in 1991.

He is now awaiting a Dallas trial to face accusations of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old former parishioner in an Irving hotel room while the man was unconscious. The trial was delayed in August to give the prosecutors time to amend the indictment after they received information that Salazar allegedly committed other acts of sexual misconduct against victims in Swisher County, according to Globe-News files.

Until now, the diocese had to provide Salazar with a food allowance and money for basic sustenance, as well as medical insurance while he awaited trial. But as he has now been dismissed, Colwell said, the food and basic sustenance allowance ended immediately, and the medical care will be discontinued at the end of February.

"Once a man is laicized, the diocese is no longer responsible for him," Colwell said.

Because the decision was made by the pope, the highest authority in the Catholic Church, Colwell said, Salazar has no one to appeal to, making the decision final. And since the sexual abuse scandal broke, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth made it church law that no man proven to be a sexual abuser of a minor can be employed by the church.

"Every priest that is functioning, that you see up there at Mass, has not been accused," Colwell said. "That very fact shows the Vatican's support of what the bishops are trying to do. The pope himself has made it very clear. In his response to the charter, he made the statement, 'There's no place in the priesthood for those who would harm our children and youth.'"

He said the diocese planned to make an official announcement of Salazar's laicization in the next issue of The West Texas Catholic, the diocese's newspaper.

Belinda Gonzales Taylor, the victims assistance coordinator for the diocese, said Salazar's laicization demonstrated to her that strides are being made and the promises of the charter are being kept. In a recent audit for compliance with the charter, the diocese was found to be in full compliance.

"Progress is being made, however slow it may seem," she said. "I'm encouraged that Rome is being diligent in their work to carry out the requirements of the charter."

But Gayle Neusch, a victim of sexual abuse by a clergy, though not by Salazar, said it had been too long in coming.

"It's a little bit too late," she said. "It's just, to me, not soon enough. He was convicted several years ago. Why didn't they laicize him then? Being a victim, it makes me angry. But at least they're doing something about it."


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