Priest Faces New Sex Charges

By Gregg M. Miliote
The Herald News [New Bedford MA]
January 19, 2005

NEW BEDFORD --The city pastor already charged with possessing and disseminating child pornography is now also being accused of exhibiting or posing at least one child engaged in a sexual act.

Although a spokesman from the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office refused to comment on the new allegations against Father Stephen A. Fernandes, the veteran Roman Catholic priest has been indicted by a Bristol County grand jury on a new charge of exhibiting or posing a child engaged in a sexual act."The case file has been impounded," said District Attorney spokesman Joseph DeMedeiros. "Unfortunately, I can’t comment on this at all."

The new indictment, handed down late last week, was announced in Superior Court during Fernandes’ arraignment Tuesday morning.

The pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish had already been charged with possession of child pornography and disseminating child pornography after he was indicted by a separate grand jury late last year.

The former pastor of Fall River’s Sts. Peter and Paul Parish sat stoically in a corner of the courtroom prior to pleading innocent to all three charges lodged against him.

Fernandes did not utter a word besides "not guilty" during the 10-minute event.

He was released on $5,000 cash bail and is now due back in court for the filing of a status conference report Feb. 28.

The case has been impounded by the court; however, Assistant District Attorney Joan M. Fund did tell Judge Robert T. Kane Tuesday morning that law enforcement officials are trying to track down and identify one or more children who may have been posed by Fernandes for his allegedly extensive child pornography library.

During the initial investigation into the allegations against Fernandes, prosecutors noted that his laptop computer had approximately 5,000 pornographic depictions and about 150 child pornography movies.

The shocking discovery came when technicians from DEG Associates in Fall River were servicing Fernandes’ laptop computer.

The three charges levied against Fernandes all carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum term of 20 years.

John Kearns, spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River, said his office was "unaware of the new indictment" against Fernandes, but said the diocese would "continue to cooperate with prosecutors in this and any other case."

Kearns also said a new priest has been assigned to Our Lady of Fatima and that Catholic Social Service counselors are readily available for any parishioner who feels they need to talk to someone about the Fernandes indictments.