Priest Returns to Texas to Face Charges

By Allan Turner
Houston Chronicle
December 24, 1996

After two years of sanctuary in his native Spain, a fugitive Catholic priest has returned voluntarily to Texas to face allegations he drugged and sexually assaulted children in his former South Texas parish, the FBI said Monday.

Bureau spokesman Al Tribble said agents arrested the Rev. Jesus Hernando Garcia on Sunday as he arrived at Houston Intercontinental Airport. He then was transferred to Sinton, where he has been indicted on charges of sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child.

Garcia was free Monday on $ 25,000 bond - a release that brought sharp criticism from the family of one of his accusers. Church officials said he would reside at the parish of St. Philips Catholic Church in Corpus Christi throughout the legal proceedings.

Garcia, 39, who for 10 years was pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Mathis, a town of 5,500 about 30 miles northwest of Corpus Christi, has been a lightning rod for charges of impropriety since September 1994, when a teen-age boy accused him of drugging and molesting him.

Santos Olivares Jr., then 18, told Catholic authorities in Corpus Christi the attack had occurred during an overnight stay at the rectory in 1991. The youth accused the priest of drugging his milk. The youth's father, then a deacon in the church, reported that he, too, apparently had been drugged and assaulted by the priest while they were traveling in Rome in 1994.

Within days, Garcia took a flight for Madrid, near which he took up residence at his old family home and served as a priest in a local church. The Olivares family then took their complaints to San Patricio County District Attorney Tom Bridges. (Family members have agreed to allow their names to be used publicly.)

No criminal charges were brought against Garcia until the following summer after other youths complained of sexual misconduct by the priest and the Houston Chronicle printed an article concerning the situation. Garcia, upon learning of his indictment, responded to authorities with a letter stating that he would not return to face the charges.

The Olivares family and others who claimed they had been assaulted joined in a civil lawsuit against Garcia, the Corpus Christi Catholic Diocese and its head, Bishop Rene H.Gracida, in January 1995.

Efforts to return Garcia to the United States to face criminal charges were temporarily blocked when he petitioned the Spanish government for reinstatement of his Spanish citizenship. His request was denied.

A federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was filed against Garcia last May.

Neither Bridges nor Garcia's defense attorney, Tony Canales, were available for comment Monday.

The Corpus Christi Diocese has said the civil lawsuit is without merit. Bishop Gracida issued a brief statement Monday saying, "I know that it will be far easier for Father Jesus to prove his innocence" with him back in Texas.

Houston lawyer David Berg, who represents the Olivares family in the civil claim, said he was "appalled that Garcia was released on bond. "

"I'm grateful that he's back," Berg said. "I just hope he sticks around for the trial. "

Adela Olivares, mother of the teen who accuses Garcia, said the priest's return to Texas reflects that "the Lord works in mysterious ways. "

"I don't know if he had a problem out there (in Spain) or what," she said. "I know he didn't have a guilty conscience.

That man doesn't have a conscience. "

Like Berg, she expressed indignation at the size of the defendant's bond.

"My son is living a hell," she said. "Garcia presented himself

as a man of the Lord, a ticket to salvation. . . . . And you tell me that $ 25,000 bond is high enough? It makes me wonder what kind of system we have. "


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