Leaders of the Salesian Congregation in Rome condemned the sentencing of a Mexican Salesian priest to 33 years in prison for allegedly raping and killing a 16 year-old girl.
Salesian leaders say Father Jose Carlos Contreras Rodriguez was accused of “crimes he did not commit” after he was sentenced by Judge Juana Maria Castillo in San Luis Potosi on Nov. 22.
Fr. Contreras was charged with killing 16-year-old Itzachel Shantal in October of 2007 after a security guard testified two years later that she saw Shantal at the front door of the Salesian house in San Luis de Potosi on the day of her murder.
Lawyers for the priest argue that there was no evidence for his conviction, which was based solely on the testimony of the security guard. The College of Catholic Lawyers in Mexico has agreed to assist in appealing the verdict.
In a statement issued on Nov. 23, the order said that the Salesian congregation worldwide has “heard the sentence with astonishment and indignation, because they are convinced of his innocence.”
“The defense lawyers, having proved his innocence scientifically and legally, are making an appeal to the Federal Court, where, without political pressure, they are seeking justice on the basis of the law and of the truth,” they added.
“Members of his family, the Province and the Congregation continue to be close to Fr. José Carlos and committed to the pursuit of justice, also on behalf of the victim Itzachel Shantal González López and the Salesian Institute.”
Father Salvador Murguia Villalobos, superior of the Salesian Province of Mexico Guadalajara, said that Fr. Contreras “displayed great fortitude after learning of the sentence” and expressed his desire “to intensify his pastoral work among those around him, to continue celebrating the sacraments and to continue helping so many young people who like him are unjustly imprisoned.”
He said Fr. Contreras remains a priest in good standing and asked for prayers, “that he may endure his imprisonment with strength and serenity.”
He also asked for prayers for all those who are helping the Salesians “during this difficult trial, that we will continue to stand by him and support him, upholding his innocence and fighting for him.”