|" Tough to Swallow"
Sacramento Diocese Expresses Chagrin over Release from Mexican Jail of Priest Wanted on Charges of Sexually Abusing Minors
California Catholic Daily
August 22, 2008
Authorities in Mexico have released a former Sacramento diocesan priest who was awaiting extradition to California to face charges of having sexually abused minors.
Mexican authorities arrested Gerardo Beltran, 51, in March and have been holding him in a Mexico City jail. "Our understanding is that he was released from custody when Mexican courts ruled that he couldn't be extradited because the statute of limitations had run out," Jeff Galvin, assistant information officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, told the Sacramento Bee.
Beltran started working in the Diocese of Sacramento in 1982. He fled to his native Mexico in 1991 when Sacramento police began investigating allegations that he had molested two girls. After Beltran's flight, the Sacramento diocese removed his faculties.
Beltran has been charged with four counts of child molestation involving two victims for incidents that allegedly occurred between 1989 and 1991. Media coverage this year brought forward two more accusers, and Beltran faces three additional charges for alleged acts of abuse between 1988 and 1991.
Sacramento diocesan spokesman Kevin Eckery called news of Beltran's release "a huge disappointment."
"We were really hoping that justice would be served and people could get their day in court," Eckery told the Bee. "To be denied justice by Mexican authorities is tough to swallow."
The Sacramento County District Attorney's Office said in a statement that the warrants for Beltran's prosecution "remain valid and active."
Two other Sacramento diocesan priests accused of molesting minors, Jose Luis Urbina and Francisco Javier Garcia, remain at large and are also believed to be living in Mexico. Urbina was convicted in 1989 of molesting a Sacramento boy, but fled the country before sentencing. Garcia has been accused of molesting children in three Northern California counties. Garcia fled to Mexico in 1995.
In 2005, the Dallas Morning News reported that both Urbina and Beltran have served as priests in Mexico in recent years. In March, Bishop William Weigand said he had alerted Mexican Church authorities several times that Beltran was a wanted fugitive in California. When they did nothing, Weigand began laicization proceedings in Rome against Beltran, Urbina, and Garcia. On Aug. 20, the diocese announced that the Holy See had laicized all three men. They and the Mexican Conference of Bishops have been notified of the decision.
Urbina and Garcia were part of a $35 million settlement the Diocese of Sacramento reached with victims in 2005. The diocese has settled with alleged victims of another diocesan priest, Mario Blanco, who for two decades has served in a Latin rite traditionalist Tacoma, Washington church that does not recognize Vatican authority.
The Bee reported in 2003 that Blanco's parishioners called him "a devout priest who serves both the poor and the wealthy, and is so well-known that actor Mel Gibson has flown Blanco to Southern California to celebrate Mass for his family." Gibson and Blanco reportedly parted company in 2001. Gibson's publicist told the Tacoma News Tribune in 2003 that Gibson's associates in Los Angeles said they had not heard of Blanco.
Blanco, who has denied the molestation allegations against him, faces imminent laicization, according to the Sacramento diocese.
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