Local Priest Accused of Sexual Assault Flees to Brazil

By Lurdes C. da Silva
O Jornal
August 22, 2008

Hyannis - A Brazilian priest who celebrated a weekly Mass in Portuguese at Saint Francis Xavier in Hyannis has fled to Brazil after being accused of sexually assaulting a minor in Connecticut.

Father Josť Afonso Lima had been placed on temporary leave from ministry by Fall River Diocese Bishop George W. Coleman last week.

"At this point, there have been absolutely no allegations about Father Lima's misbehavior in our diocese," John Kerns, director of communications for the Fall River Diocese told O Jornal.

"All reports [about Fr. Lima] around here are in fact very positive," added Kerns.

Fr. Lima, 46, who had been in the Fall River Diocese since 1998, ministering to Catholics from Brazil who live and work on Cape Cod, has denied the allegation.

However, diocesan policy and the U.S. Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People require that the accused priest be removed from ministry until matters like these are resolved.

Parishioners were informed about Fr. Lima's suspension through a letter from Bishop Coleman that was distributed last weekend at Masses offered to Brazilian Catholics on the Cape and in Fall River.

"I am deeply troubled by this matter and understand how devastating the announcement of it is to the Brazilian community and to the St. Pius X Parish community," Coleman wrote in his letter. "I wish to assure all of you of my prayers at this difficult time. I ask that you remember Father Lima and the individual who has brought forth this accusation in your prayers."

According to the Fall River Diocese, Fr. Lima was notified of the allegation by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and of the Department's initial finding that it is "substantiated."

The Fall River Diocese, however, was not informed by Connecticut officials of the allegation, their preliminary inquiry into it or their finding on the matter, according to a statement issued on Monday.

Fr. Lima, who has obtained U.S. citizenship, is a member of Missio, a community of priests organized and sponsored by the bishops of Brazil to provide pastoral care to Catholics from that country who now live in the United States.

Although he worked under the direction of the Fall River Diocese, he remained a priest of his native Brazilian diocese.

When the Fall River Diocese learned last week that Fr. Lima may have returned to Brazil, it conveyed the information to the Bridgeport, Conn., police.

Meanwhile, the director of the Missio community in the United States, Monsignor Pedro D. Diniz, has been in contact with Fr. Lima in Brazil.

"At this point, he is still trying to convince him to return," Kerns told O Jornal on Wednesday.

In his 10 years with the Fall River Diocese, Fr. Lima, had always been based in Cape Cod, said Kerns.

"At some point, he was traveling to Fall River to celebrate Mass to Brazilians here," he said. "But he has not done it for some years."

Until his suspension, Fr. Lima resided at St. Pius the Tenth Parish in South Yarmouth. He was ordered to leave this residence by Aug. 14 to go to Danbury, Conn., where the U.S. director of the Missio community is based. He was to remain there under the supervision of his community until the allegation matter was resolved.

Bishop Coleman encourages anyone who may have information that might be useful to the investigation to contact the Connecticut Department of Children and Families at 800-842-2288. Locally, they can call Arlene McNamee of the Office of Child Protection of Catholic Social Services at 508-674-4681.


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