Missouri priest found guilty of sexual solicitation during confession

Confessional Credit Pleuntje via Flickr CC BY SA 20 CNA Confessional. | Credit: Pleuntje via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, was found guilty of sexual solicitation of an adult during confession and has been barred from holding any office in the Church and from celebrating Mass or hearing confessions.

Father Ignazio Medina was found guilty by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and the disciplinary actions against him were announced in a Jan. 1 statement by the Diocese of Jefferson City. In 2023, Medina was also convicted by a Church tribunal of embezzling more than $300,000 from parish funds.

Despite his crimes, Medina remains a priest in the Diocese of Jefferson City and will continue to receive retirement support from the diocese.

In a statement sent to CNA, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, who heads the Diocese of Jefferson City, said: “I want to be clear that sexual solicitation during confession is a sacrilege, a crime in our Church, and a grave form of abuse; it cannot be tolerated.”

“With God’s help we must work to continue to eradicate abuse from all corners of our Church,” McKnight added while also asking the faithful to “please join me in prayer for all who are left in pain and confusion when a trusted leader abuses their position of sacred trust and power for sinful purposes.”

The investigation into the abuse of the sacrament of confession began on April 15, 2022, after the victim notified the diocese through an abuse hotline. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith oversaw and approved the decree finding Medina guilty on Nov. 27, 2023.

According to the diocesan statement, Medina chose not to appeal the decision and the window for appealing has now closed, meaning the punishments are permanent.

The diocese explained that the penalties imposed on Medina, which are effective immediately, will permanently ban him from hearing confessions and from celebrating or concelebrating Mass publicly without the explicit permission of his bishop. He also can never hold an office within the Church again.

McKnight said that he met with Medina and “informed him he will not be allowed to celebrate or concelebrate Mass publicly except for funeral Masses of his immediate family, at the gathering of priests at their annual conference in October, and at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.”

Jacob Luecke, a representative for the diocese, told CNA that the decision to allow Medina to retain his priestly faculties and continue to receive retirement support from the Church was made by the Vatican, not the diocese.

“It was not within our authority to determine the penalties,” Luecke said, adding that the penalties “were decided as part of the administrative disciplinary process that was prescribed by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Luecke added,"It is important to understand that dismissing Father Medina from the priesthood was not a possible outcome according to the law of our Church" and that "the penalty received by Father Medina was the maximum punishment available."

Ordained in 1978, Medina was serving as pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark, Missouri, when the ecclesial investigation was opened in April 2022.

He was barred from hearing confessions or being alone with anyone other than his family on Church property. Amid the investigations into the confession incident and his financial affairs, the diocese granted Medina’s retirement request on July 1, 2022.

After being placed on retirement status, an ecclesial panel of three canon lawyers found Medina guilty in April 2023 of “abuse of ecclesiastical power” for embezzling funds from the Church.

The investigation found Medina had transferred $300,000 to personal accounts, $200,000 to an account belonging to him, and $100,000 to an account belonging to his brother while pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Wardsville, Missouri. The investigation also found that there were approximately $20,000 in “unexplained cash withdrawals” made from parish funds under Medina’s leadership.

Although the FBI reportedly opened an investigation into Medina’s embezzlement he has not yet been convicted of the crime by secular authorities. A representative for the FBI's Kansas City office told CNA she could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation” regarding Medina’s embezzlement.

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Per a diocesan statement sent on April 25, 2023, Medina did not appeal the ecclesial embezzlement conviction and “has made full restitution for the missing funds.”

The diocese said that “the issue of possible financial mismanagement first surfaced in December 2018,” before Medina was transferred to Our Lady of the Lake Parish in 2021. The diocese did, however, put into place temporary financial safeguards at Our Lady of the Lake Parish and an independent auditor found no financial irregularities at the second parish, according to a diocesan statement.

This article has been updated.

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