Oakland Diocese: Priest accused of child sex abuse fled the country
By Erin Baldassari
March 02, 2019
|Members of the Cathedral of Christ the Light church attend Christmas mass in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 25. 2011. |
Photo by John Green
An Oakland priest who was suspended from his duties following allegations of child sexual abuse, is believed to have fled the country, officials with the Oakland diocese said Saturday.
Rev. Alexander Castillo, who served at Saint Anthony Parish in Oakley and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Fremont, was placed on administrative leave Jan. 30 and stripped of his authority to function publicly as a priest.
He had been living at Our Lady of Lourdes rectory in Oakland, the diocese’s chancellor, Steve Wilcox, said during a February interview with this news organization. At the time, Wilcox said the church was not aware of Castillo’s whereabouts but believed he was living in the area.
He said he knew that Castillo was at Our Lady of Lourdes immediately after his leave of absence, but that he was also looking for “groups of friends to live with for a few days until things calm down.”
“I don’t know whether he found someone to live with, whether it was in San Francisco or some other place,” Wilcox said. He added, “But he didn’t move. He wasn’t officially asked to move.”
Diocese officials last spoke to Castillo on Feb. 20, said Helen Osman, a spokeswoman for the church. But, attempts to reach him the next day, on Feb. 21, were unsuccessful, she said. Diocesan staff attempted to file a missing persons report on Feb. 22, she said, but were told to first contact “every jail and hospital in the area” before the police would accept the report. They did, she said, and filed the missing persons report the next day, on Feb. 23.
Oakland police informed diocesan officials on Friday that Castillo, a native of Costa Rica, had been located, though Osman said officers would not tell them where he had been found, except that he had left the country.
Multiple calls to Oakland police were not returned, and a spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said she was not able to provide any information about the case on Saturday.
Melanie Sakoda, a leader in the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, blasted the church’s handling of the case. Officials waited three days after a victim reported the abuse to church officials before Castillo was removed from his duties, Wilcox said in February. The diocese sent out a press release the day following Castillo’s suspension, but didn’t report it to police until five hours later.
Wilcox also said in February that he was in contact with Oakland police regarding both the evidence surrounding Castillo’s case and the timeline for reporting the allegations to police.
“This is what we were concerned about with their delay in reporting,” Sakoda said, “that he would flee the country.”
She said she hoped it would not be a repeat of what happened in the case of Francisco Xavier Ochoa. The Sonoma ex-priest fled to Mexico in 2006, several days after meeting with the bishop of the Santa Rosa diocese and other church officials and admitting to offering a boy $100 to strip dance in front of him. He also confessed to kissing other boys on the lips, the Press Democrat reported. He died quietly of lung cancer in Mexico three years later.
His victims, Sakoda said, never had a chance to confront him in court.
“He was never able to be brought back for justice,” she said. “It feels like another betrayal.”
Castillo came to the U.S. in 2008 and was ordained in 2011. Fluent in Spanish and English, he organized and directed missionaries in Costa Rica, and, beginning in 2010, taught at the Serra Catechetical Institute for parents and instructors in the faith. He directed the reopening of the Escuela de Ministerios Pastorales in 2013, where he was an academic dean and taught several courses. In 2014, he was appointed as Secretary to the Bishop and Episcopal Master of Ceremonies, in which capacity he assisted Bishop Michael Barber in public sermons.
A few years later, in October 2017, Barber appointed Castillo director of the Department of Faith Formation and Evangelization overseeing adult ministry and, during his appointment, spoke highly of him. As director of the department, Castillo no longer had a parish assignment, nor day-to-day interactions with children, Osman said.
“Father Castillo’s deep commitment to our faith and to the people of God in our diocese is inspiring,” Barber said at the time. “I know he will lead our work in faith formation and evangelization with integrity and fidelity.”
The Oakland diocese last month released the names of 45 priests who had been “credibly accused” over the years of sexually abusing children. The list, which focused on the diocese’s jurisdiction that spans Alameda and Contra Costa counties, included 20 of its own priests, three priests from other dioceses, and 22 priests, deacons or brothers affiliated with religious orders like the Salesians and Franciscans who had worked within the Oakland diocese.
Castillo was not included on the list, Wilcox said, because the investigation into the allegations of his abuse are still ongoing.