Valley Family Angry Former Priest Still Preaching

By Romeo Cantu
KGBT4 News
March 17, 2005

A Weslaco family told Action 4 News Wednesday night that they were very upset after learning their former priest was still leading worship services after being banned from doing so due to accusations that he sexually assaulted several children.

"I felt very angry," said Josie Rocha, the mother of two sons who have accused their former priest of sexual assault. "I know how much this meant and the pain it had caused my children -- my sons."

Rocha, her husband, Joe, and their youngest son, Jaime, said that they were upset after seeing their former priest on television celebrating a mass.

"We were flipping channels and we noticed there was a procession going on. And all of a sudden my husband pointed him out to me and said, 'There he goes,'" Josie Rocha said. "I couldn't believe it seeing him dressed as a priest walking among the other priests."

The Rocha's former priest is Monsignor Ivan Rovira, who two weeks ago was discovered celebrating the mass of a new bishop in Matamoros.

Along with the family noticing him, Brownsville Bishop Raymundo Pena discovered him during the mass, Brownsville Dioceses officials said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The Diocese said that Pena told Rovira that he couldn't be dressed in his priestly garb and celebrating mass.

The reason is that back in 2002 Pena removed Rovira from the Diocese and barred him from leading worship services after victims started coming forward, accusing Rovira of sexually assaulting them as children.

"We did discover that there was evidence that these allegations were substantial," said Rev. Heberto Diaz Jr., a spokesman for the Diocese.

Diaz said that as many as four victims have come forward. Two of those are the eldest Rocha brothers, Ruben and Mario.

"Once I found out that both of them had been victims, my heart broke," Jaime Rocha said. "It's been a long three years recovering."

Jaime Rocha, who was not abused, said that his oldest brother Ruben told him that he was just 11 years old when he was sexually assaulted at St. Pius Catholic Church in Weslaco.

And then his brother came forward and said that he too had been abused at the church when was 9 years old.

The Rocha family contends that boys' abuse began in 1979 and continued for several years, but it wasn't until 2002 that they both came forward with what had occurred to them.

"I wish that it would not continue to be called alleged because (Rovira) admitted to it to the bishop," Joe Rocha said.

The Rocha family said that they hope by coming forward other victims and their families will do the same.

"We have realized as a family in dealing with this that the power of the abuse all those years ago, today and in the future is in silence," Jaime Rocha said. "And we're not going to be silent anymore."

During the news conference, Diaz offered an apology to the victims and their families.

"We're profoundly sorry. We did the best we can," Diaz said. "We told him he wasn't supposed to publicly celebrate mass. He chose to do that anyway. We can only do so much to prevent him from doing that."

The Diocese said that they later learned Rovira had filled in on several occasions at various churches in Matamoros, and that they have taken steps to ensure this doesn't happen again by advising the new bishop in Matamoros about Rovira's status.

Rovira is currently a professor at a Catholic university in Matamoros.

In a written statement, Rovira said, "Wrapped up in the emotion of the arrival of a new bishop, I concelebrated at his installation in Matamoros. Often we do things that may offend people, and for that I apologize."


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