Priest assigned to Univeristy of Illinois Newman Center faces cocaine charges

.- A Catholic priest assigned to the Newman Center on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana faces criminal charges for allegedly selling and using cocaine for several months at his Newman Center office and at his nearby home.

Father Christopher Layden, 33, entered his plea in a video arraignment from jail on Monday, the News-Gazette reports. The priest pled innocent to two counts of delivery of less than 1 gram of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a church and an additional count of possession with intent to deliver 1 to 15 grams of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a church.

The delivery charges carries a mandatory prison term of four to 15 years, while the possession with intent to deliver cocaine charge carries a mandatory prison sentence of six to 30 years.

Judge Richard Klaus set a pre-trial hearing for October 21 and set bond at $50,000. Father Layden posted $5,000 cash two hours later and was released from jail.

An informant working with U of I police officers investigating the priest told a judge on Wednesday that he has known Father Layden since 2007. The informant claims to have used cocaine “40 to 50 times” with the priest both in the cleric’s Newman Center office and at the priest’s residence across the street.

University police officers searched the office and the residence, finding evidence which included about three grams of powder cocaine.

In the complaint for the search warrant, police said the informant gave “an extremely detailed taped statement about the ongoing problem of a priest at the Newman Center Catholic Church distributing cocaine from the offices and the rectory. He identified him as Father Layden.”

The informant also claimed that on seven occasions between February and May 2008 he went with Father Layden to Chicago to buy cocaine. Allegedly the priest provided him an average of $800 for each purchase, which he used to buy the drug.

Further, the informant alleged that he and the priest had snorted cocaine off a framed picture of Father Layden posing with a Catholic bishop.

Radio station WJBC reports that University of Illinois Police Chief Jeff Christiansen says it doesn't appear Layden sold drugs to current students.

Father Layden studied in Rome and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Peoria in 2001.

The Diocese of Peoria issued a statement on Thursday, saying Bishop Daniel Jenky was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the priest’s arrest.

The statement reports that Father Layden has been suspended from all pastoral ministry and the diocese is “fully cooperating” with law enforcement.

“Never at any time prior to Father Layden’s arrest did the Diocese or the Newman Center have any suspicion of problems concerning drug use on the part of Father Layden,” the statement says.

“The Bishop is praying for the entire Newman Community at the University of Illinois and for all of those affected by the scourge of drug addiction.”

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