Archdiocese Waited Week before Reporting Child Porn Allegation against Priest

By Steve Schmadeke
Chicago Tribune
September 21, 2016

Octavio Munoz, 40, a priest who was removed from ministry in July, was charged Sept. 21, 2016, with possession of child pornography. (Chicago Police Department)

A catholic priest responsible for recruiting young men to the priesthood appeared in court Wednesday on child pornography charges after police arrested him at a Maryland treatment center where the Chicago Archdiocese had sent him without notifying authorities, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors also disclosed that the archdiocese initially hired a private investigator after an employee reported seeing child pornography on the laptop of the Rev. Octavio Munoz, 40, last year. The archdiocese conducted its own investigation for more than a week before contacting Chicago police. The laptop was never found, they said.

The archdiocese then sent Munoz to Maryland for counseling as the police investigation heated up, prosecutors said, prompting a sharp question from Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil.

"Isn't there counseling in the state of Illinois that he could've been afforded?" she asked.

She ordered Munoz to turn over all his passports and remain in Illinois if he can post his $50,000 bail on the single count of possession of child pornography. She also banned him from having any contact with minors or using the internet.

The archdiocese notified police that Munoz was in Maryland, spokeswoman Colleen Tunney-Ryan said, though it was not immediately clear if police were told before an arrest warrant was issued Aug. 30.

Munoz had been rector of the archdiocese's Casa Jesus, a renowned training program for Latin American men who want to become priests. In that role, he traveled abroad to recruit young men to study in the United States, according to Assistant State's attorney Guy Lisuzzo.

In July 2015, Munoz was to vacate his Casa Jesus apartment before starting as pastor at St. Pancratius Parish in the Southwest Side neighborhood of Brighton Park, Lisuzzo said. An archdiocese employee showing the new rector around the Casa Jesus apartment on July 7 found boxes of Munoz' belongings still there, along with an open laptop on a TV tray playing a video of a young boy engaged in a sex act, he said.

Munoz was not there at the time, and both the employee and rector left the apartment, Lisuzzo said. The employee assumed the rector would report what they had seen, but learned about a week later after the apartment had been cleaned out that no report had been made, he said.

The then-rector told the archdiocese that “he did not see anything inappropriate on that computer,” spokeswoman Tunney-Ryan said.

The worker contacted the archdiocese, which hired a private investigator on July 17 but did not immediately call police, Lisuzzo said. The investigator found an empty bag for a Sony laptop in a storage area used by Munoz, who admitted he owned the computer but said he no longer had it.

He then turned over other "electronic device(s)" that were examined by a private company, which did not find the video seen by the archdiocese worker but did discover emails with "stories of child erotica," Lisuzzo said. The analysis also revealed that Munoz had recently used additional devices, he said.

From July 20 to July 28, private investigators went to Munoz's home and collected more "electronic devices," he said, but never found the black Sony laptop. Their investigation uncovered a video that appeared to show two boys having sex, he said.

The investigators called Chicago police and Munoz was removed from the ministry on July 28.

“We never saw the material the staff member reported,' Tunney-Ryan said. “In order to obtain and preserve the material” the archdiocese “immediately” hired private investigators.

Once the investigators found the suspect child pornography on July 27 and “in accordance with archdiocesan policy we immediately reported this information to civil authorities,” she said.

Authorities executed search warrants for Munoz's home and previous apartment, as well as on all his electronic devices, Lisuzzo said, finding "hundreds of DVDs (and) VHS tapes that appear to depict minors" engaged in sex acts.

Prosecutors described two movies in particular that portrayed multiple sex acts involving children. They also found emailed stories of sex with children and "undergarments of a size intended for minors," Lisuzzo said.

Some of the "hundreds of pieces of evidence" are still being investigated, Lisuzzo said.

During the police investigation, Munoz "was moved by the archdiocese to a location for... (church) evaluation and business," Lisuzzo said. "The Chicago Police Department was not notified of that location."

Munoz's attorney, Raymond Wigell, said his client was sent to Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., and was always willing to surrender to police. He said an Aug. 30 arrest warrant was unnecessary.

Wigell said he did not know what type of counseling program Munoz was in. On its website, the institute says its clergy treatments "address anxieties, addictions, depression, substance abuse, boundary issues, interpersonal problems, sexual issues and other challenges."

Wigell said he did not know what devices were seized or whether they were controlled only by Munoz.

"They never tied that together so we'll have to wait and see," he said. "What I heard was speculation and innuendo, but not proof."









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