Catholic Archdiocese Answers SNAP's Abuse Accusation

By G.M. Corrigan
November 23, 2008

A South American Catholic priest, who, as an associate pastor at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Forest Hill in 2001, fathered three children with a parishioner through in-vitro fertilization, was removed from duty as quickly and effectively as possible, the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore told The Examiner Friday.

The priest, Father Fernando Cristancho from Istmina, Colombia, who according to archdiocesan spokesman Sean Caine, successfully screened for transfer from his Colombian diocese in 1999, became a lightning rod for criticism of archdiocesan handling of priestly sex abuse allegations at a recent Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests demonstration.

"Cristancho was removed from ministry in the archdiocese in July 2002, when he refused an assignment," Caine said. "That was prior to him informing the church that he had fathered three children through in-vitro fertilization and four years before we learned of any suspected abuse — and the archdiocese went public about his removal and about his family."

A court recently awarded custody of Cristancho's children to the mother, Dalia Fernandez, reportedly because the state Department of Social Services accepted a son's claims that he had been molested by his father in 2005.

At that time Fernandez said she told her doctor about the abuse allegation, but was advised to take it up in counseling rather than report it to authorities.

"I'm outraged that no one else is taking to task the doctor who told [Fernandez] not to report the incident because nobody would believe her," Caine said. "Imagine if the archdiocese had done that."

"All 'suspended' means is that [Cristancho] has no current assignment," said SNAP National Director David Clohessy. "And that's not disclosure. Cristancho was and remains on [the archdiocesan payroll]."

"The bishops have said over and over," Clohessy added, "that if there is any kind of credible allegation, we suspend first and then we investigate and then we'll be open and honest and transparent. And [the archdiocese] did none of this."

Caine, however, said Cristancho's salary stopped with his removal and that extensive public disclosure was given to the action.


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