Monterey Bishop Addresses Molestation Case Via Letter to St. Mary's Congregation in Salinas

By Kimber Solana
The Californian
April 20, 2009

Members of St. Mary of the Nativity Catholic Church sat quietly at Mass Sunday as Rev. Jose Alberto Vazquez-Martin read a letter from Bishop Richard Garcia of the Monterey Diocese.

The letter, addressed to the congregation, was the bishop's response to the arrest last week of one of St. Mary's priests on child molestation charges.

Priests are sworn to protect the youth, Vazquez-Martin read. "They're God's precious gift to us."

Before reading the letter, Vazquez-Martin told the congregation of the situation concerning their own parish priest, Rev. Antonio Cortes.

"I'm sure many of you already know," Vazquez-Martin said.

Cortes has been accused of 20 counts of selling liquor to a minor, one count of sodomy with a person under 18 and two counts of child molestation. He was arrested Thursday at the church's Second Avenue office across from the church.

Garcia said in the letter that Cortes, 41, has been removed from his responsibilities as parish priest and is not allowed to come to St. Mary's and other parishes while he is under investigation.

Garcia asked everyone to cooperate with the Salinas Police Department saying if anyone has any information or knows any other possible victims to report it to the police.

"Trust the justice system and God," Garcia said in the letter.

Vazquez-Martin, the diocese's director of vacations, said he'll be running St. Mary's parish for the time being.

"I was shocked like many of you," Vazquez-Martin told the audience when he first heard of Cortes' situation.

"Pray for me, your priests, pray for Father Antonio," he said. "Work with me and we'll get through this."

The congregation, about 180 members at the 11 a.m. Mass, applauded and continued the ritual.

But one member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was disappointed the bishop did not address the congregation himself.

"This is an open communal wound, an open sore he needed to address in person," he said. "People feel betrayed. This church serves a community already ridden with disappointments."

The church is at 1747 Second Ave. in east Salinas.

According to Warren Hoy, a spokesman for the Diocese of Monterey, church officials were notified of the arrest on Thursday afternoon.

Hoy said Cortes has been the priest at St. Mary's since June 2007 and has been with the diocese for about 12 years. Prior to St. Mary's, Cortes was a priest at Holy Trinity Church in Greenfield since September 2003.

Hoy added that Cortes was associate pastor at St. Theodore's Catholic Church in Gonzales from August 2002 to September 2003. Before that, he served as associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Salinas from July 1996 through August 2002.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Cortes remained in Monterey County Jail. His bail was set at $750,000.


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