Houston priest removed from ministry amid sex abuse allegation in Colombia
An Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston priest has been removed from ministry after an allegation surfaced that he raped and impregnated a girl in South America, according to church leaders.
Jesus Suarez was suspended from his most recent assignment at St. Philip of Jesus Catholic Church on Villita Street in northeast Houston, according to an archdiocese statement. The complaint alleged that Suarez sexually assaulted a minor that “may have resulted in the birth of children” in his native country of Colombia before he immigrated to the United States in 1994 to serve as a priest, the statement read.
The archdiocese has since referred the complaint to the Houston Police Department, according to the statement.
HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva declined to elaborate on the allegation because the priest identified by the archdiocese has not been charged with a crime.
“Investigators are following up on all tips received from the archdiocese,” Silva said.
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Philip Wilhite, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe, identified Suarez as a former parochial vicar at the Montgomery County parish. He learned of the priest’s removal on Friday, he said.
“All prior assignment parishes and his present one are being advised so that if there was any sexual misconduct by him with minors in these parishes, those victims would contact civil authorities,” Wilhite wrote Saturday in a Facebook post.
He shared a letter from Auxillary Bishop George Sheltz, who is filling in for Cardinal Daniel DiNardo while he recovers from a stroke, that would be read during Mass on Saturday and Sunday at each of the churches where Suarez served. The memo identified the parishes as St. Vincent de Paul, St. Pius V, Sacred Heart and St. Cecilia.
The archdiocese did not say how long Suarez, who was not included in the Jan. 31 list of credibly accused clergy, served at each assignment and a spokeswoman declined to answer additional questions.
Suarez has been at St. Philip as early as 2010, according to a church bulletin.
The archdiocese did not say when the complaint was lodged and when Suarez was removed.
Michael Norris, head of Houston’s Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, said the archdiocese was made aware of the Suarez allegations last week and that church leaders “took action to remove him from ministry on Friday.”
“We are happy that he was removed from ministry today,” Norris said in a statement. “Now, the most pressing questions is whether Fr. Suarez hurt any children during his time in the United States.”
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The archdiocese said it has received no other allegations of child sex abuse about Suarez.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church is where another accused priest, Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, was accused of molesting two children. Two accusers — now adults — came forward to Conroe Police Department last year for abuse alleged to happened from 1998 to 2001. He was arrested in September on four counts of indecency with a child.
He was slated to appear in a Montgomery County court on Thursday but the hearing was pushed back to May 13. A grand jury is expected to convene by then and decide whether to indict La Rosa-Lopez, Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman said.
The Houston Police Department’s Special Victims Division is looking into at least one other priest, according to the archdiocese. The church has forwarded at least two child sex abuse complaints against Father John Keller, a priest at Prince of Peace Catholic Community, to the authorities.
Keller has been temporarily removed from ministry pending the outcome of the investigation.