The bishop declared that the priest had incurred a latae sententiae excommunication, after which Leatherby said he planned to petition for laicization, acknowledging that he is no longer “in union with the church over which Bergoglio reigns.” The priest said that he would “live out my priestly promises independently.”
Leatherby’s laicization likely brings to a halt the canonical trial against him related to allegations of sexual coercion and manipulation.
In March 2016, the priest was removed from ministry at a Sacramento parish, amid allegations that he had engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman at the parish. He was prohibited from public ministry and his sacramental faculties were withdrawn.
The priest said in August that “I violated boundaries in ways with that woman.”
Leatherby is accused of violating the trust of women for whom he served as spiritual director, and of committing acts of abuse in that context.
While the diocese says it initiated a canonical trial against the priest in 2016, it did not reach a verdict before Leatherby requested laicization, bringing the trial to a conclusion. Soto’s Nov. 2 letter lamented that fact.
‘The woman who brought the initial accusation and her family have suffered more than has been revealed. Along with her testimony, other accounts of the silent suffering of women have been laid upon my heart,” Soto wrote.
The bishop added that while the canonical trial did not come to a resolution before Leatherby requested laicization, he believed the priest had indeed acted inappropriately.
“Over time, I came to a moral certitude that the alleged prohibited behavior against the sixth commandment had transpired in the case of the accuser as well as with other adult women,” Soto wrote.
“I am ashamed that a brother priest abused the sacred trust of vulnerable women. It is disturbing that he has now placed himself outside of any ecclesial accountability,” the bishop added.
“I must own and atone for the wounds that have been inflicted. I am sorry that vulnerable souls were abused. Their trust was betrayed. Their confidence in the Church’s saving grace was shaken. Their anguish requires respect, care and contrition from me.”
In response, Soto called for priests to “join me in offering a day of reparation for the sins of clergy abuse on Friday, November 6, 2020. Fast on that day, if able to do so. Offer a Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pray for the victims of clergy abuse asking for God’s merciful healing upon them. Let us also pray for one another that we may generously, chastely and joyfully exercise our priestly duties for the good of the Church and the glory of God. The Faithful are welcomed to join with the clergy in this act of reparation,” he wrote.
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“My brother priests and I belong to the priesthood of Christ Jesus in communion with our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We are the stewards, not the owners, of this divine treasure. This priesthood exists only to serve Christ and His Church. In response to scandals that have troubled this local Church, our own humility, accountability, and personal sacrifice must be the remedies we offer to the People of God in the Diocese of Sacramento.”
Leatherby could not be reached for comment.