National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  July 2, 2004

Priests said to cross borders to escape abuse charges


A yearlong investigation into 200 cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy by The Dallas Morning News found that nearly half involved clergy that tried to elude law enforcement by crossing international borders, often with assistance from their superiors, and many of these remained in active ministry.

“About 30 remain free in one country while facing ongoing criminal inquiries, arrest warrants or convictions in another,” the Dallas paper said in the introduction to a multipart series of articles that began running June 20.

“Most runaway priests remain in the church, the world’s largest organization, so they should be easier to locate than other fugitives.

“Instead, Catholic leaders have used international transfers to thwart justice, a practice that poses far greater challenges to law enforcement than the domestic moves exposed in the 2002 scandal,” the introduction said.

Each day between June 20 and June 23, The News carried front-page stories with extensive details of four cases:

  • Fr. Frank Klep is a convicted child molester and wanted on more charges in Australia. However, in 1998 his religious order assigned him to a college on the South Pacific island of Samoa, where the Dallas paper photographed him dispensing candy to children after Mass.
  • Fr. Enrique Vásquez fled his native Costa Rica in 1998 the day before charges of abusing a 10-year-old altar boy were brought against him. He went on to work in the New York archdiocese and traveled extensively in the United States for Hispanic ministry assignments. He fled again to Mexico in 2002 and later to Honduras.
  • Fr. Nicolas Aguilar was sent by his bishop from Cuacnopalan, Mexico, to Southern California to get a fresh start in 1987, after he was shot and nearly beaten to death by parents of children who said he had sexually abused them. He stayed in Los Angeles for just nine months, but according to police he molested at least 26 boys. He returned to Mexico. Abuse allegations and criminal charges continued to be leveled against Aguilar, and he was even convicted in 2003, but he was spared punishment on a technicality. All the while he continued with parish ministry.
  • Fr. Yusaf Dominic, a Pakistani who was arrested and jailed for molestation of a minor in England in 1996, disappeared from a treatment facility in 1997 before he could be tried. The dioceses of Lahore and Multan, Pakistan, barred him from ministry, so he tried the United States. Church officials in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Los Angeles denied him postings, but he worked about two months at parish in Newark, N.J. The News finally found him in Albissola Marina, Italy, celebrating parish Masses.

The Dallas Morning News series was written by Brendan M. Case, Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin.

The News said it would continue to run stories from its investigation over the next several months. The series is available in English and Spanish at

The Samoan government issued a deportation order to Klep June 24, giving him three days to leave the country or appeal the order.

The Salesians of Don Bosco, an international religious order of 16,000 members, was particular hard hit by the newspaper series. Klep and Vásquez are Salesians, and The News accused Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez of Honduras, a Salesian who is widely considered a candidate for pope, of sheltering Vásquez.

From their world headquarters in Rome, the Salesians posted a statement on their Web site denouncing the news reports, saying the order “categorically denies such behavior and condemns every kind of abuse of minors.”

The Salesians’ worldwide leader in Rome is Fr. Pascual Chávez, who in the 1990s kept an admitted molester in ministry in Mexico, The News reported.

The News reported that as it was putting its stories together, Chávez did not respond to requests for comments and did not answer detailed written questions sent to him by fax.

Rodríquez also did not respond to written questions, and according to his chancellor, Fr. Juan López, was too busy to be interviewed. López initially told The News that Vásquez had never worked in the archdiocese but later said he might have seen the priest at a clergy meeting.

López told the Dallas journalists, “I don’t see your interest in this, except for morbid fascination.”

Vásquez’s bishop in Costa Rica, Angel San Casimiro, said he did not know how the priest got a ministry job in Honduras. Church officials there did not check with him, San Casimiro said.

In 2002 while the FBI was searching for Vásquez at the request of Costa Rican prosecutors, San Casimiro never told anyone that the priest was traveling in the United States and Mexico because, he said, no asked him.

The superiors of the other priests made similar comments to The News. Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore had said he didn’t know where Dominic was but later acknowledged that he had given the priest permission to study theology in Italy and “work in an old age home, not work in a parish.” Saldanha said he didn’t know Dominic had worked in the United States. He thought the priest was on a private visit there.

Another commonality across the stories was the pressure put on victims and their families. When Flory Salazar reported the abuse of her 10-year-old son to San Casimiro, she said he implored her not to go to the police. She said neighbors criticized her for denouncing a priest.

One of Dominic’s victims was 9 years old when he was abused. When he reported the abuse to the Westminister archdiocese in London 12 years later, the church official told him, “These things happen.” According to the paper, the official offered to arrange a meeting at which Dominic would apologize to the young man and “we could all have a cup of tea together.”

National Catholic Reporter, July 2, 2004

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