Seminarian Arrested in Sex Assault
Former Student 1st to Face Criminal Charge in Diocese

By Daniel Tepfer
Connecticut Post [Bridgeport CT]
Downloaded January 30, 2004

BRIDGEPORT - A Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport seminarian has been charged with molesting a 16-year-old girl.

Leonardo Montoya, 30, of West Avenue in Norwalk, surrendered at Bridgeport police headquarters Tuesday night after being told there was a warrant for his arrest.

Montoya is the first religious figure of the diocese to be arrested for sexual misconduct. Twenty-five priests in the diocese have been accused of sexually assaulting children and teenagers since the early 1960s, but the statute of limitations had passed before they could face criminal prosecution.

Montoya was charged with one count of fourth-degree sexual assault and was released after posting $10,000 bond.

A diocesan spokesman said Wednesday that the accused was dismissed from the seminary earlier this month.

Montoya, formerly assigned to St. Augustine's Cathedral in Bridgeport and churches in Trumbull and Norwalk, is accused of molesting the girl, the daughter of an acquaintance, on Nov. 30 while he was visiting their Bridgeport home.

The girl was so traumatized by the incident she had to be hospitalized for a short period of time, sources said.

"Apart from the state's criminal charges, which we had nothing to do with, we have been retained by the minor victim's mother to investigate this serious matter and determine what legal options, if any, are available," said the girl's lawyer, Jason Tremont.

"In December, we put the diocese on notice of this sexual abuse complaint. It is certainly significant that the police investigation gives credence to the claims of the victim

I am sure that this is one reason why the diocese sought suspension," Tremont said.

Montoya's lawyer, Jonathan Spodnick, questioned the motive for the allegations against his client, pointing out that Tremont has represented more than two dozen people who settled claims of abuse by Catholic priests in the diocese.

"In these times the public should closely examine such allegations, especially when numerous other civil lawsuits have been filed. One has to wonder whether this is a case of somebody trying to seek a settlement against the diocese."

Spodnick previously represented the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, who has been accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen children in the 1970s. However, he denied that the diocese hired him to represent Montoya.

The girl, who was interviewed by police Detective Angel Llanos at the hospital, said that on Nov. 29 Montoya picked her up in Waterbury with her mother and brother to drive them back to their home here. Along the way, the girl, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, said Montoya began touching her knee and trying to rub her thigh, police said.

That night after she went to bed, the girl told police she was awakened by Montoya, who appeared to be intoxicated. She told police he pulled down the covers, but she yelled at him and he left the room.

Sometime in the early morning hours, however, the girl said she again was awakened by Montoya, who had removed the bed covers and was rubbing her genital area. She told police she jumped out of bed and began screaming. She ran and told her father what happened, and he ordered Montoya out of the home, police said.

The girl's family told police Montoya had been married in his native Colombia and was a police officer there.

Diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said Montoya, who was in his third year of a four-year program leading to ordination as a priest, was dismissed Jan. 15 after police notified the diocese of the investigation.

He said Montoya entered St. John Fisher Seminary Residence in Stamford in September 2000 and Blessed John XXIII major Seminary in Weston, Mass., in September 2001. He interned at the cathedral, St. Stephen's Church in Trumbull and St. Mary's Parish in Norwalk.

"Mr. Montoya has denied the charges made against him today. He was dismissed from the diocesan seminarian program for showing poor judgment in allowing himself to be placed in an inappropriate situation in which these charges could be made," McAleer said.

McAleer said all seminarians undergo criminal background checks and a series of psychological examinations.

The Rev. Chris Walsh, vocation director for the diocese, said Montoya had entered a seminary in Colombia, but took time off to teach at a missionary school there.

He said Montoya's brother is a priest in California and through a connection in this diocese arranged for the defendant to continue his training for the priesthood here.

While McAleer and Walsh said they were aware Montoya had worked as an auxiliary police officer in Colombia, they said they had no information about whether he had been married.

"He never told us he had been married," Walsh said. "This is a sad case for all of us."

Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308.


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