San Diego, Calif., Sep 18, 2018 / 01:58 pm (CNA).- A California priest has been charged with sexual battery, after he is alleged to have sexually assaulted a San Diego seminarian.
The priest, Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. On May 14, Castillo was charged with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. A preliminary hearing in his case will take place Sept. 21.
Castillo is alleged to have forcibly groped and made sexual advances toward a seminarian after a parish event in early February. The assault was reported to police and diocesan authorities almost immediately, sources say.
Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, confirmed that the diocese had received a report that Castillo engaged in misconduct with an adult. He also told CNA that Castillo no longer has priestly faculties in the diocese.
Eckery said he would not confirm or deny whether the adult was a seminarian.
Castillo, 35, was listed as associate pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, California until late March, six weeks after the assault was allegedly reported to the diocese.
Although Castillo was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time he was removed from the parish, the diocese did not disclose the circumstances of his departure to parishioners, or make any statement at the time Castillo was charged with sexual battery.
Eckery told CNA that the diocese did not disclose to Castillo’s parish the allegation of sexual assault because “it would be wrong for us to influence the case.”
“We need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear,” he added.
The diocese would not explain the priest’s removal from ministry to the parish where he served, Eckery told CNA, without trying first to determine if an act of sexual misconduct took place, and whether any sexual act was “non-consensual.”
“We’re in a holding pattern,” Eckery said.
In an Aug. 27 statement on the crisis of sex abuse in the Church, San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy wrote that “This is a moment when the bishops of our nation, in union with the Holy Father, should be focused solely on comprehensively revealing the truth about the patterns of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy in our Church, so that deep reform can be enacted.”
“We as bishops cannot allow the pathway of partisanship to divide us or to divert us from the searing mission that Christ calls us to at this moment. We must make public our sinful past. We must engage and help heal the survivors of abuse. We must develop new, lay-governed instruments of oversight and investigation in every element of how we confront sexual abuse by clergy at all levels in the life of the Church. And we must reject all attempts to subordinate these goals to ideological or personal projects. For if we do not, we will have betrayed the victims of abuse once again,” McElroy added.
Castillo was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.
The website of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary’s U.S. region lists Castillo, as of Sept. 17, as “Local Superior of the San Diego Community of the CJM.” He is said to be “working with Eudist seminarians on a family-formation program for the Spanish speaking community.”
Castillo has recently inquired into the possibility of ministry in at least one other U.S. diocese, multiple sources have told CNA.
The Eudists serve at parishes in the Diocese of San Diego and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as well as in France, Canada, the Philippines, and several South and Latin American countries. As of 2016, there were 560 members of the congregation in 76 houses worldwide. The Eudist community of San Diego occupies two houses in Carlsbad and two houses in nearby Solana Beach.
California’s penal code establishes that “any person who touches an intimate part of another person while that person is unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice, and if the touching is against the will of the person touched and is for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of sexual battery.”
According to a spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, a protective order forbids Castillo from contact with the victim.
A jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 22. If convicted, Castillo could face up to six months of incarceration, and be listed for life on California’s sex offender registry, the spokesman told CNA.
Eckery said that the Diocese of San Diego does not yet know whether Castillo will face any ecclesiastical disciplinary process after his criminal trial. “We’ll be waiting to see the outcome of the criminal case. At that point, we’ll be informed and we’ll know what the next steps are,” he said.
The Congregation of Jesus and Mary did not respond to requests for comment from CNA.