Nogales Priest Disappears after Being Told of Sex-Abuse Investigation

By Joseph A. Reaves
The Arizona Republic [Nogales AZ]
December 8, 2003

A Roman Catholic priest in Nogales being investigated for possible sexual abuse has disappeared.

The Rev. Fernando L. Manzo, pastor of San Felipe de Jesus parish in Nogales, disappeared late last week after being summoned to a brief closed-door meeting with Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese.

Kicanas confirmed through his spokesman Monday that he met with Manzo last week.

"At that time, I indicated to him that a criminal investigation had been initiated . . . by the Pima County Attorney," Kicanas said in a letter read to parishioners in Nogales.

"I asked that he go on administrative leave until the investigation is completed."

The bishop said Manzo promised to let church officials know where he was staying, but quickly disappeared.

"I have not heard since from Fr. Manzo," Kicanas said. "A missing person report has been filed with the Nogales Police Department. I pray we will locate him soon."

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said she was ethically prohibited from commenting because "there is an ongoing investigation." She also said she was unaware of Manzo’s whereabouts. Two sources close the church, however, confirmed the investigation against Manzo involved at least one allegation of sexual misconduct.

Manzo, 47, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and graduated from St. John's Seminary in LaCamarilla, Calif., in 1982. He was ordained in 1983 and served in parishes in Safford, Yuma, Summerton and Tucson before becoming pastor of San Felipe de Jesus in July 2001.

Since June of 2002, the Tucson Diocese has identified 25 priests, one deacon and one religious woman who have been accused of “credible” allegations of sexual misconduct with minors. Many of allegations date as far back as the 1960s.

Another 30 clergy and church employees in the Phoenix Diocese have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct, including eight priests indicted in the past year.

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