Washington bishop apologizes for hiring worker facing child porn charges

.- In a letter read at 40 Catholic parishes in the state of Washington, Bishop Carlos Sevilla has apologized to his diocese for hiring an ex-seminarian to work in a parish despite knowing he was under investigation for viewing child pornography, the Yakima Herald reports.

On Sunday Sevilla personally delivered his apology to parishioners at St. Juan Diego Catholic Church in Cowiche—the church that the ex-seminarian worked at. 

"I respectfully ask your forgiveness for my errors and for the embarrassment this may cause you, and your forgiveness for any damage this may cause to the work of the Church in our Diocese," he said in the letter.

"Please pray for me, for the former seminarian who has now been arrested to face these charges, and for continued healing and forgiveness for all those who suffer from childhood sexual abuse," he continued.

The accused ex-seminarian, 37-year-old Juan Jose Gonzalez Rios, was arrested last month on an outstanding Oregon warrant after he was pulled over for speeding.  He is being held in Yakima County jail pending an extradition hearing, with his bail set at $80,000.

Gonzalez was hired at St. Juan Diego originally to deal with adults, but his duties later included teaching youth classes in Cowiche and at Holy Redeemer Parish in Yakima.  There are no allegations of misconduct by Gonzalez, though the diocese has hired a private investigator to examine his conduct.

Some parishioners gave their opinion about the bishop’s apology.

Patricia Williams, a parishioner in Cowiche, said she appreciated that Bishop Sevilla made an apology in person to the church.  She said the bishop seemed sincere, according to the Yakima Herald.

Kathy Scott, a parishioner at Holy Redeemer, said she had been surprised when she heard about the allegations against Gonzalez, but said, "I still stand behind the bishop."

The day of Bishop Sevilla’s apology to parishioners at St. Juan Diego, family members of Gonzalez handed out a letter outside the church alleging that Gonzalez had been sexually abused by a priest who once served at the parish.

Gonzalez’s lawyer, J.J. Sandlin, alleged that the priest sexually assaulted Gonzalez at least once.  The incidents are alleged to have taken place more than nine years ago, before Gonzalez entered the seminary.

The family also alleged that Gonzalez had been "exposed to a variety of inappropriate sexual conduct” while studying at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon.  The Gonzalez family alleged that the misconduct took place while Gonzalez was in his early 20s.

The family claims that Gonzalez informed Sevilla about both the alleged sexual misconduct of the priest and the alleged misconduct at the seminary.

Father Robert Siler, the diocesan chief of staff, addressed the family’s accusations, saying, “if an allegation of abuse occurs between adults, the bishop handles it with confidentiality and does not make his findings public unless authorities need to be involved.” 

When asked if the priest’s behavior had been or would be investigated, Father Siler said he could not comment.

Williams, the parishioner in Cowiche, said Gonzalez “seemed very nice.”  She said she saw the letter distributed by Gonzalez’s family, and found the controversy disturbing.  She said she did not believe the allegations the letter makes against the priest.

"The whole thing is unsettling for everybody," she said, according to the Yakima Herald.

The Diocese of Yakima has 41 parishes and more than 80,000 Catholics.

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April 23, 2014

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