Support Offered for Accused Priest

By Liset Marquez
Contra Costa Times
September 28, 2010

ONTARIO - Parishioners and friends of a Catholic priest accused of molesting two teen brothers have created a group to help prove his innocence.

Prayer vigils and marches are just two of the ways the Coalition to Exonerate Father Alex is showing its support for the Rev. Alex Castillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, who is facing accusations of sexual misconduct.

He was removed from active duty in late June and is not allowed to interact with parishioners.

"We want us to be the voice for him and to show support," said Ted Campos, a longtime friend. "Let the community know how much he is loved and how he has impacted the community here."

The Diocese of San Bernardino was contacted June 24 by the boys' parents and told of the alleged abuse. Castillo maintains his innocence. He has not been charged with a crime.

Parishioners have been writing letters of support, which Campos said he hopes to deliver to the diocese in person this week.

The coalition members are planning to march in front of the San Bernardino Diocese's offices this week, but no date has been set, he said.

Aside from their support of Castillo, the coalition is also criticizing the diocese for releasing information on the investigation "too early," Campos said.

"We feel they jumped the gun in releasing the information because it is still going on. In our opinion, it was a breach of ethics," he said.

The diocese has its own review board to investigate abuse allegations. The board has met twice since the allegations surfaced, said John Andrews, spokesman for the diocese.

After the allegations were found to be credible, the diocese and Bishop Gerald Barnes decided to make the allegations public.

"We have a clear process for allegations of sexual abuse and we have followed that process," Andrews said. "We feel comfortable with the decisions we've made."

No new allegations have surfaced since the disclosure was first made.

On Sunday, coalition members marched from Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sultana Avenue to the church's parochial house.

While Castillo no longer lives there, Campos said they did it in support and because he is "sorely missed."

On Friday, nearly 200 parishioners and friends of Castillo held a candlelight vigil, Campos said.

"We prayed that everything would resolve as quickly as possible," he said.

Coalition members plan to be active in the next couple of weeks with more "marches of solidarity" and prayer groups.

Campos has also established a Facebook page called "Help Father Alex Castillo." It has 12 members. An e-mail address has also been set up for those wanting to contact the group:

Castillo's case is atypical for the diocese, which covers San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

"It does show his impact and connection to that parish," Andrews said of the coalition.

When news of the allegations surfaced, Campos said he was concerned that no one was telling Castillo's story.

Campos first met Castillo when he was the pastor at St. Catherine of Siena in Rialto eight years ago. Since then, the two have remained friends.

Castillo is known in the community for being "radical" and pushing parishioners to get informed on issues, as well as getting out to vote, Campos said.

"He wanted everybody to be enlightened and educated," he said. "He's an advocate for the people."

In his time at the Ontario parish, Castillo set up a program for children with special needs as well as the annual health fair in October.

"He was a worker for the people and for the children because he knows they are the future," Campos said.

The coalition plans to hold prayer vigils at 7 p.m. every Friday in front of the church.

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