Passaic Priest Accused of Sexual Contact with Girl, 14, Makes Court Appearance
By Jeff Green
July 26, 2013
|Rev. Jose Lopez in Passiac Municipal Court being arraigned on a luring charge and initiating sexual contact with a minor|
The case against a Passaic priest accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl was transferred to state court during his first appearance before a judge this morning.
The Rev. Jose Lopez Durango, a native of Colombia who is in the United States on a religious work visa, did not enter a plea on Friday. Prosecutors allege that in late January, while serving as an assistant priest at St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption, Durango put her on his lap and engaged in sexual contact with her at the church rectory after inviting the girl to this living quarters there.
During a seven-minute appearance in Passaic Municipal Court, the priest – wearing a blue polo shirt and slacks – answered questions from Judge Debbie Irwin through an interpreter and looked down at a podium he stood behind.
After Durango gave the address of the church as his residence, the judge stressed that he cannot live there as a condition of his bail. He then told the judge he was staying at a retirement home in Chester in Morris County.
The priest’s attorney said Thursday that Durango was living in the retirement home and that he was released from custody after paying a $50,000 cash bail. Irwin said conditions of the bail included that he live in the retirement home, have no contact with the alleged victim and not have any unsupervised contact with children under 18. Durango also had to surrender his travel documents.
The judge scheduled Durango’s next appearance, on charges of second-degree luring of a child, third-degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, for Aug. 16 in Superior Court, Paterson.
Durango and a woman who accompanied him declined to comment after the proceeding.
The girl told another priest in May that Durango had made her “uncomfortable,” but at that time did not provide specific allegations of a crime, said Chief Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Joseph A. Del Russo.
Ken Mullaney, an attorney for the Diocese of Paterson, said he called the Prosecutor’s Office on June 19 immediately after that priest called Bishop Arthur Serratelli with information about the allegations.
The girl told police that Durango kept pulling her back when she tried to get off his lap but that she was able to escape when he fell to the floor during the struggle.
Del Russo said Durango had made the girl uncomfortable on several occasions by trying to hug her before he invited her to his living quarters for counseling on Jan. 20. He said the other incidents did not constitute a crime but that “the Jan. 20 incident was unambiguous.”
Mullaney said Durango, who was ordained as a priest in 2011 and worked as an assistant at St. Mary’s and at St. Nicholas Church, was placed on administrative leave on July 9 and was moved to a facility where he has no contact with children after prosecutors approved his removal while their investigation continued.
Durango denied any wrongdoing on Thursday through his attorney, Joseph Afflitto.
“He said he never touched her in any improper way,” Afflitto said.