Priest in Mexico suspended over S.F. charges

San Francisco Chronicle/April 28, 2010

A Catholic priest was stripped of his duties in Mexico this week pending an investigation into sexual abuse allegations coming out of San Francisco - a suspension coming more than a decade after a woman reported the claims and urged church authorities to keep her former clergyman away from children.

The priest, Teodoro Baquedano Pech, was suspended while the Archdiocese of Yucatan investigates allegations of sexual abuse dating to the 1960s and 1970s.

Sylvia Chavez, the alleged victim of the abuse, came forward about 12 years ago to report the abuse and repeatedly warned the Mexican Catholic officials about Pech. The suspension came just days after a Washington Post article detailed the allegations, which included fondling.

The Mexican archdiocese said in a news release that previous warnings about the priest's conduct in San Francisco were not accompanied by official documentation that the archdiocese could have used to bring it to a tribunal.

And there had been no complaints of improper conduct since Pech was transferred to Mexico in 1975, according to a statement from the Yucatan Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belauzaran.

"The archbishop has decided as a cautionary measure to provisionally remove Father Baquedano Pech from his duties as a priest until a thorough investigation is completed," according to the release.

The case is only the most recent in a clerical sex-abuse scandal that has spread in recent weeks across Europe and South America and into the Vatican, with Pope Benedict XVI questioned over his refusal to discipline priests involved in child abuse cases.

Thousands of victims have come forward in recent years reporting abuse going back decades.

"I think that what we've seen time and time again across the world is that the church does little or nothing to the priest until they feel tremendous public pressure," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "I think there is a clear lesson here for victims, and that is never, ever give up."

Pech's suspension was a "great comfort" to Chavez, said her attorney Jeff Anderson on Tuesday. Chavez, 54, declined to be interviewed.

Still living in San Francisco, she initially contacted church officials about 12 years ago describing the abuse she claimed started when she was 11 and continued until she was about 16. She wanted to keep the priest away from other children he could harm.

"Her plea fell on deaf ears," said the Minnesota-based Anderson, who represents clergy abuse survivors across the country.

After suing the church and negotiating a six-figure settlement several years ago, Chavez and her lawyer tracked Pech down in Mexico. They said they received the local bishop's assurance the priest wouldn't be allowed around children. Yet the priest continued ministering in a community and living "within arms reach of a school yard," Anderson said.

"It was only through (Chavez's) voice and her courage that this guy has been removed from the ministry over 40 years after he committed the offenses against this child," Anderson said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.