Puerto Rico probes church sex abuse allegations
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Prosecutors in Puerto Rico are investigating six priests who face sex abuse allegations and have been expelled by church authorities from a diocese in one of the island’s north coastal towns.
Government prosecutor Yolanda Pitino said Friday that she and other attorneys are interviewing several people who have accused the priests of sodomy, lewd acts and sexual harassment.
She said the Arecibo Diocese has provided prosecutors with information related to the six priests, but that they need more details.
“We are not satisfied with the information that the church gave us,” Pitino said in a phone interview, adding that the diocese has not responded to requests for more information.
The Diocese of Arecibo said in a statement that it is working with authorities and sharing information about the six priests that Bishop Daniel Fernandez expelled starting in 2011.
″(We) reiterate our policy of zero tolerance against child abuse,” the diocese stated.
Fernandez did not return a message for comment.
The case has caught the attention of officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, who have requested information from the island’s justice department, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Complicating the investigation is a separate sex abuse allegation that surfaced against Fernandez himself, which he has rejected.
“Clearly, it’s revenge for the decisions I’ve taken since the moment I assumed leadership of the diocese, where the situation that I found was not the most positive,” Fernandez said in a recent statement. “My conscience is at peace, because I know the accusation is false.”
Roberto Gonzalez, the archbishop of San Juan, has said that the Holy See has requested information about the allegation against Fernandez, but that there is no official investigation.
Pitino said the investigation regarding the sex abuse allegations is just beginning.
“We are urging people to find the courage and go to police if they have been victims,” she said.