Nicaragua Seeking Priest Who Fled Child Sex Charges

Associated Press
July 13, 2004

Nicaraguan authorities said Tuesday night they had arrested a man matching the description of a Costa Rican priest fleeing sexual molestation charges, but said the man's identity had not been confirmed.

Authorities have been searching for the Rev. Enrique Vasquez on an Interpol warrant on behalf of Costa Rican officials. National Police said Vasquez apparently had entered Nicaragua.

National Police spokeswoman Miriam Torres said the man matching Vasquez's description was captured in the northern province of Matagalpa, which is near the border with Honduras. Police are waiting for Vasquez' fingerprints to be sent from Costa Rica to determine whether they match the suspect's.

Vasquez fled Costa Rica after a criminal complaint was filed by the mother of a boy he allegedly molested. He later worked in Connecticut, New York state and South Carolina, as well as in Honduras and Mexico.

Nidia Barbosa, deputy director of immigration, said Vasquez entered the country on July 1 from Honduras.

She said he also had visited briefly from June 21 to 22, also entering from and leaving to Honduras.

Meanwhile, Emilio Leon, an investigator with Interpol in Costa Rica, said in a story in Wednesday's editions of The Dallas Morning News that Bishop Angel San Casimiro was not cooperating with efforts to find Vasquez. "He must know where Enrique Vasquez is," Leon said.

Church officials in Nicaragua told the newspaper they didn't know where Vasquez was, but wouldn't tell law enforcement officials if they did find him.

"Our function is not to alert the police," Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata, secretary of the Nicaraguan Bishops Conference, told the newspaper. "We would alert religious authorities."

On Monday, the children's rights organization Casa Alianza said that another Costa Rican youth had come forward with allegations against the priest.

It said the man, now 23, said he had been abused while serving as an altar boy in Vasquez's church in the Costa Rican city of Orotina, about 35 miles southwest of San Jose.

"We are very worried at the number of victims with whom we have spoken. There are many youths who have suffered because of the abuses committed by Father Vasquez," Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza, said in a news release.

The organization has criticized church leaders in Honduras and Costa Rica for failing repeatedly to tell police about the whereabouts of a man they knew was wanted on charges of abusing children. It said it has received telephoned threats warning it to drop the issue.

Vasquez had been working in the town of Guinope in Honduras until March 2003, a few days before the international warrant was issued for his arrest.

Herenia Trejo, who lives in the southern Honduran village of El Paraso, told The News the reports about Vasquez were a lie. She said the priest visited her home in May and "he slept in the same bed as my daughters and my son."

The News reported in its Wednesday editions that Costa Rican prosecutors have renewed their investigation of whether San Casimiro should face charges for protecting Vasquez.

In 2002, the Hartford Courant newspaper reported that church officials there had allowed Vasquez to continue to work even after learning of the abuse allegations in Costa Rica.

In June, the Dallas Morning News profiled Vasquez as part of a series following a yearlong investigation of runaway Roman Catholic priests.


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