Community Shocked by Sexual Abuse Charge against Priest

August 4, 2011

[with video]

A Catholic priest assigned to Nativity of Our Blessed Lady Church in Eastchester, Bronx was arrested Wednesday night on charges he sexually abused a 16-year-old girl, and parishioners worry that this could mean the end of the church altogether. NY1’s Rocco Vertuccio filed the following report.

Parishioners at the Nativity of Our Blessed Lady Church in Eastchester, Bronx said they just can't believe it.

"I would put my life on this that he didn't do this," said Gilbert Lane, a church member.

Father Jaime Duenas, 87, who was their beloved priest for 20 years, was arrested on allegations of inappropriately touching a teenage girl.

This is the same priest who baptized Joan Perry's grandchildren and great grandchildren.

"It's very, very sad. I don't know the whole thing, but I can't understand it," said Perry.

Father Duenas was arrested Wednesday night inside the church rectory after a 16-year-old girl who just starting working there went to police.

Duenas has been a priest for 61 years and was ordained in his native Colombia. He has worked in the Archdiocese of New York since the 1960s.

Lane, who worked with Duenas on the church council, said he cannot believe the man known for so much good is accused of something this bad.

"The effort he puts out to keep the church going and the school is just remarkable," said Lane.

Parishioners are worried about what the arrest will do to their church. They said Father Duenas is their only fulltime priest. The others are visiting priests because of a priest shortage.

"It might mean the church closing because the diocese is looking to close parishes," said Lane.

In a statement, the archdiocese said it is “committed to providing a safe environment for all, especially our children and young people. We will cooperate fully with the district attorney in whatever investigation may be conducted."

Father Duenas was released without bond. Besides inappropriate touching, he is charged with sex abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

His case goes back to court next month.


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