Chicago priest arrested in Miami has ties to shuttered program

credit: chodyra Mike 1/Shutterstock
credit: chodyra Mike 1/Shutterstock

.- Two priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago were arrested Monday in Miami, after the men were reportedly found engaged in a sex act within a parked car. At least one of them was a participant in a program for Hispanic seminarians that was suspended by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

One of the priests, Fr. Diego L. Berrio, is the pastor of Mision San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He was also appointed this summer the interim “coordinator of the Office for Extern and International Priests.”

The other priest, Fr. Edwin Cortes listed the parish as his address when he was arrested. A Sept. 4 statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago said that Cortes is "an extern priest from Soacha, Colombia who served at St. Aloysius Parish in Chicago for one month, August 1 to August 31, 2018."

The statement said that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago "has removed Fr. Berrio from ministry and withdrawn his faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago, effective immediately. The archdiocese will appoint an administrator for the Misión San Juan Diego as soon as possible."

"Archdiocese representatives have been in contact with Fr. Cortes’ home diocese of Soacha, Colombia and informed them that Fr. Cortes will not be granted additional faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago," it said.

The priests were both charged with lewd conduct, and Cortes was also charged with indecent exposure.

Berrio was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2008. The priest, a native of Colombia, came to Chicago through the Casa Jesus program, a “house of discernment” in which prospective seminarians from Latin America were invited to consider the priesthood during a year-long program sponsored by the archdiocese. The program was founded in 1987.

The Casa Jesus program was suspended in 2016. In that year, NBC 5 Chicago reported homosexual activity among Casa Jesus participants, and said that in 2015 three participants had been dismissed after visiting a gay bar.

In September 2016, Fr. Octavio Munoz was arrested on child pornography charges. Munoz was the rector of Casa Jesus from 2008 to 2015, when he was transferred to a parish in the archdiocese.

On July 7, 2015, Fr. Kevin Hays, who had been appointed to replace Munoz as rector, toured the priest’s apartment with a Church employee, according to an ABC 7 report.

The employee claimed that a laptop belonging to Munoz was streaming child pornography while he and Hays were in the apartment. The employee reportedly contacted archdiocesan officials about the pornography more than a week later, and was surprised to learn that Hays had not yet reported the matter.

The archdiocese contacted private investigators after the matter was reported, but did not contact police until July 28, the same day Munoz was removed from ministry, according to the Chicago Tribune.

ABC 7 reported that Hays told archdiocesan officials he had not seen pornographic videos playing while visiting the apartment. Hays is now the pastor of Notre Dame de Chicago Parish in Chicago.

In a statement issued shortly after Munoz was charged, the Archdiocese of Chicago said that: "On July 28, 2015, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich removed Father Muñoz from ministry and withdrew his faculties, his authority to minister, after the archdiocese learned that the inappropriate material might involve minors. Given the nature of that material, the archdiocese reported it promptly to the civil authorities and have cooperated fully with their investigation."

Another Chicago priest, Fr. Clovis Vilchez-Parra, was also arrested on child pornography charges in 2015. The priest had been serving as parochial vicar at Mision San Juan Diego, where Berrio is currently pastor. Vilchez-Parra was sentenced to four years in prison in 2017.

NBC 5 Chicago reported in 2016 that Vilchez-Parra had ties to Casa Jesus, but did not say whether he had been a participant in the program.

Also in 2015, the Archdiocese of Chicago removed Fr. Marco Mercado, who had been a Casa Jesus participant, from his position as pastor of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois. The archdiocese said that Mercado had had an "inappropriate relationship with an adult man."

The Archdiocese of Chicago could not be reached for comment.

Editor's note: This story was updated after a Sept. 4 statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Tags: Catholic News, Archdiocese of Chicago, Rev Diego L. Berrio, Rev. Edwin Cortez, Casa Jesus