Joliet Priest Attempts Suicide after Abuse Allegation, Officials Say
Boy, 13, Alleges Sexual Abuse; Priest Is Injured after Fall from Choir Balcony inside Shuttered Joliet Church

By Steve Schmadeke
Chicago Tribune
January 8, 2010,0,3300055.story

Parishioners called their newly minted, Bolivian-born priest "Father Alex" and spoke of him as a "holy man" whom churchgoers at Holy Family Parish in Shorewood had quickly grown to love.

The Rev. Alejandro Flores told them that his experiences in a Bolivian orphanage after his mother died inspired him to become a priest, according to a church magazine article.

But a vastly different side of Flores, 37, emerged Monday, when he was put on leave by the Diocese of Joliet, accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy. Kane County authorities launched an investigation. Church officials moved the parochial vicar from his post to a Joliet residence for priests in training and took "very, very serious precautions to monitor him," said Joliet Bishop J. Peter Sartain.

Even so, on Wednesday, police and church officials said, Flores walked away unnoticed and entered St. Mary's Carmelite Church, 113 N. Ottawa St., a shuttered 19th century limestone church whose towering spire has long been a Joliet landmark. The priest then plunged 20 feet from the balcony choir loft to the sanctuary floor in what police and church officials said was a suicide attempt.

Flores, who was ordained in June, was found unconscious between the pews Wednesday afternoon shortly after church officials reported him missing, said Joliet police Deputy Chief Mike Trafton. A church official who found him said Flores was wearing street clothes.

He remained in critical but stable condition with head injuries Thursday, church officials said. Sartain said he visited Flores at Silver Cross Hospital.

The bishop said Thursday there were no prior abuse allegations against Flores in the Joliet or any other diocese. Flores was ordained a deacon at Naperville's St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in November 2008.

As a priest-in-training, Flores had lived in a now-closed residence adjoining St. Mary's and still had keys to the building, officials said.

Police and the Kane County state's attorney's office said the sexual abuse allegations were under investigation but declined to comment. Even though no charges have been filed, the bishop publicly apologized to the boy and his family at a Thursday news conference.

"I want to express publicly ... my apology to the young boy and to his family that this happened under my leadership as the bishop of Joliet," Sartain said. "I have been deeply grieved for the young boy and his entire family for what they have suffered and suffer now."

Parishioners were upset. "We're very devastated," said one, who asked not to be named. "He's just a great guy, a very holy man."



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