Ontario priest charged with child molestation

The Sun, San Bernardino, California/October 26, 2010

Ontario - Prosecutors on Monday charged an Ontario Catholic priest with molesting a 12-year-old boy, and police say he had at least four other victims.

The Rev. Jose Alejandro Castillo, also known as Father Alex, was arrested at the home of a parishioner in the 600 block of W. Zenia Court. He was booked into West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $1 million bail.

Ontario police had been investigating the case since July 21. They said that 57-year-old Castillo committed eight sex acts with the boy.

Castillo worked as a priest the past seven years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ontario.

"It's a very sad day for the church, especially for the good people of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish," said John Andrews, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese.

The diocese, Andrews said, was not aware that more victims had surfaced until the arrest Monday night.

News of the investigation prompted parishioners to write letters to the Diocese of San Bernardino in support of Castillo. Castillo has denied the allegations.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office issued an arrest warrant for Castillo on Monday, charging him with seven felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child younger than 14 years old. He was charged with an additional count of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child, police said.

Police say he could face as much as 22 years in prison.

Investigators are also looking into allegations that Castillo committed sex acts with a 14-year-old boy while serving at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

Officers say a 16-year-old boy was identified as a victim, but charges won't be filed due to the statute of limitations on the crime.

Two other people claimed to be victimized by Castillo, but they were older than 18 at the time and Castillo won't be charged in those cases either.

Diocese officials on Monday night met with staff at the parish, members of the church's ministries, as well as members of the Coalition to Exonerate Father Alex Castillo.

Father Pavol Sochulak, who has been the interim priest at Our Lady Guadalape for the past couple of weeks, will decide how he wants to address the congregation about the arrest, Andrews said.

"We continue to make ourselves available, to let them voice their feelings," he said.

The diocese has provided counseling for the victims, he said.

News of the arrest was met with applause by one advocacy group, St Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, one of the oldest and largest support groups for clergy abuse victims.

In most cases, once an allegation surfaces, more victims will come forward, said Joelle Casteix, SNAP Western regional director.

"Until there is complete discretion, until every personnel document is open, then we will never know the scope of the abuse. We have no idea how long he's been abusing children," she said.

Casteix is also calling for end to the public support of Castillo.

"I'm not saying that they shouldn't support him, just don't be very public," she said.

Parishioners can still pray for Castillo, but "they need to support the victims because now victims might be sacred to come forward because they might be confronted by an angry mob," Casteix said.

In September, parishioners and friends of the priest created the Coalition to Exonerate Father Alex Castillo.

The group held prayer vigils every Friday night and twice held marches in his support. One march was in front of the diocese offices in San Bernardino.

"We, the coalition, stand behind father Castillo. We are there to support him in his time of need," said Ted Campos, who has organized the coalition's efforts.

Campos, a longtime friend of the priest, said the group's efforts have all been done in a "peaceful" manner and have not been "overly vocal."

The only focus of the coalition has been to support Castillo, Campos said.

"Anybody who feels they have been abused has the right to make accusations," he said.

Since its formation in September, the coalition has raised nearly $15,000. The funds are to support Castillo with lawyer fees, Campos said.

The group is working with Castillo's attorneys to try to get bail reduced.

Campos said he and his wife were going to meet their friend at his home in Zenia Court when the arrest occurred. The couple witnessed Castillo being escorted by police into an unmarked vehicle.

"It was devastating," he said. "It's difficult to make it through the day but we rely on the strength of God, that's what keeps us going."

Members of the advocacy group expect to be at the Ontario church in a couple of weeks handing out educational leaflets, she said.

SNAP officials also plan to continue to notify the public about Castillo to see if any other victims will come forward.

Casteix, who said her Spanish is limited, admits there will be some challenges with helping any victims in Ontario.

"They are a vulnerable population," she said. "Not only is it a primarily Spanish speaking community, but because of that they won't talk about it."

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