Former St. Francis Priest Arrested

By Erika Davila
Santa Fe New Mexican
June 12, 2003

Ex-associate rector charged with 25 counts of child molestation in California

A priest who worked as associate rector at St. Francis Cathedral the last three years was being held in a California jail Wednesday after being charged with 25 counts of child molestation.

The Rev. Jose Superiaso, 49, was arrested in Daly City, Calif., just south of San Francisco on Tuesday for incidents that occurred in Daly City between 1994 and 1995, authorities there said.

The victim, now 20 years old, alerted police in Daly City two weeks ago, said Steve Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, in a phone interview.

Authorities told the woman to telephone Superiaso and ask him to meet her in a Daly City cafe to talk about what had happened in 1994 and 1995, Wagstaffe said.

When Superiaso arrived at the cafe Tuesday afternoon, detectives were waiting for him.

Superiaso was to be arraigned Wednesday, but during the hearing, asked for a court-appointed attorney. The attorney requested a one-week delay and Superiaso will be arraigned next week, Wagstaffe said. His bail has been set at $2.5 million.

The Very Rev. Jerome Martinez y Alire, rector of St. Francis Cathedral, said he learned Tuesday evening about Superiaso's arrest and was "stunned." Last week, Superiaso had asked for permission to attend a retreat in Pecos this week, Martinez y Alire said.

"I was completely surprised to find out he wasn't in Pecos, but in San Francisco," Martinez y Alire said.

Superiaso has been placed on administrative leave and is no longer a priest at the cathedral, the rector said. Martinez y Alire said he had not spoken to Superiaso since the arrest.

Superiaso had been at the cathedral for three years and had worked in parishes within the Archdiocese of Santa Fe for two years prior to that.

In a statement, Archbishop J. Michael Sheehan said there had never been any complaints of misconduct by Superiaso in New Mexico.

Superiaso was ordained in the Archdiocese of Manilla in the Philippines and had been on "loan" to the United States the last 12 years -- first with the Archdiocese of San Francisco, then in Santa Fe.

Wagstaffe, the deputy district attorney in California, said the incidents for which Superiaso is charged occurred while the priest was working at St. Andrew's Church in Daly City between July 1994 and November 1995. The victim was 12 when the incidents began and 13 when they ended, he said.

"It did involve fondling, oral copulation and sexual intercourse," Wagstaffe said.

He said the woman is still a resident of the California bay area, but he would not name the city.

While Superiaso stayed at St. Andrew's for some years after the incidents, Wagstaffe said there are no other reports of molestation by him.

He said the victim was with her parents when she alerted police. The conversation the victim had with Superiaso asking him to go to California was taped by police. However, Wagstaffe said he could not reveal any of the details.

Superiaso moved to the Santa Fe archdiocese in 1998 because he wanted to work with Pueblo Indians, Martinez y Alire said. At the time, he came with the recommendation of the vicar general of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and there was no mention of any difficulties, he said.

Maurice Healy, a spokesman for the San Francisco archdiocese, said Wednesday there had never been any complaints about molestations involving Superiaso during his time in California.

Superiaso arrived in the Bay Area from the Philippines in 1989 or 1990 to attend the Franciscan school of theology in Berkeley, Healy said.

The bishop of Manila requested he be housed within the San Francisco archdiocese while he attended the school, Healy said. He was given housing at the St. Andrews Church parish.

He worked in Filipino ministry for two years before becoming associate pastor at St. Andrews, where he stayed until 1997. Then he moved to Our Lady of the Pilar Parish in Half Moon Bay, Calif. for three months. In July 1997, he worked at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish south of San Francisco before leaving to work in Santa Fe in mid-1998, Healy said.

As part of his ministry at the cathedral, Superiaso traveled to Tesuque and Taos pueblos once or twice a week, Martinez y Alire said.

"He was very much liked, from what I understand, by the Pueblo people," the rector said.

Superiaso had hoped to become a permanent member of the Santa Fe archdiocese, Martinez y Alire said .

"It's a five-year waiting period to see if everything was going to work out," Martinez y Alire said. "Obviously, it did not."

Superiaso was a musician who knew how to play several instruments, Martinez y Alire said. He would often direct the children's choir at St. Francis Cathedral School and the cathedral's youth choir, he said. The work was always done with other adults present, Martinez y Alire said.

Martinez y Alire said he contacted the school principal and the youth director Wednesday morning and both said there had never been any complaints or suspicions about Superiaso.

Martinez y Alire said he would address Superiaso's arrest during Sunday's masses.

Before working at the cathedral, Superiaso also worked at. St. Anne's Church in Santa Fe, Holy Trinity in Arroyo Seco and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Taos.

This is not the first time the Santa Fe archdiocese has had to deal with allegations of molestation and child abuse. Allegations of sexual abuse by priests surfaced in the early 1990s. Then-Archbishop Robert Sanchez resigned amid allegations that he had improper relationships with various women. When Archbishop Sheehan took over the archdiocese in 1993, he expelled more than 20 priests and the archdiocese settled more than 187 cases for about $25 million.

In his statement Wednesday, Sheehan said the archdiocese has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct by its priests and employees.

"If it is determined that he indeed is guilty, he will have no further priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe," Sheehan said.

A spokeswoman with the archdiocese the archbishop would not give further comments.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.