Former Seminarian Agrees to Return to Oregon in Porn Case

Seattle Times
April 23, 2008

A former seminarian charged with viewing child pornography while studying to be a priest in Oregon no longer faces a fugitive warrant, now that he has promised to return voluntarily for arraignment.

An $80,000 bail requirement for Juan Jose Gonzalez Rios, 30, of Tieton, also was dropped Tuesday in Yakima County Superior Court, but he remained in jail pending an immigration status hearing during the next week in Tacoma.

The case is one of a number cited recently by critics who have accused Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla of covering up sexual misconduct by priests and employees within the Yakima archdiocese.

Three weeks ago Sevilla apologized for a "serious failure in good judgment" by hiring Gonzalez to work at a retreat when he knew of the child pornography investigation in Oregon and of failing to inform pastors and other church employees about case.

Gonzalez remained in jail pending a hearing on his immigration status during the next week in Tacoma. He entered the country from Jalisco, Mexico, more than 15 years ago and his religious visa expired in 2005.

If immigration officials allow Gonzalez to be released on bail, he could live with his family in Tieton pending arraignment June 5 in Salem, Ore., defense lawyer J.J. Sandlin said.

While details of the charges have been sealed, the case involves accusations of viewing child pornography while Gonzalez was at the Mount Angel Seminary in Mount Angel, Ore., where he spent four years studying to become a priest. He was dismissed in February 2003, when seminary officials reported the porn accusations to police.

Sevilla subsequently hired him for part-time work at the St. Peter Retreat Center in Cowiche, and he later became director of the center. Diocese officials said they learned he was wanted on an arrest warrant issued in 2005 only after he was taken into custody following a stop for speeding in Tieton on March 19.

Sandlin has said Gonzalez became highly distressed at the seminary after witnessing inappropriate sexual behavior by instructors and fellow students.

Relatives have claimed he was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest in Cowiche when he was in his early 20s. The priest, they say, later left the state. Diocesan officials have refused to comment on that claim.


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