A controversial priest who was relieved of his duties in Trenton in 2002 for alleged sexual abuse of minors died Tuesday in his native Spain.

The Trentonian/August 6, 2006

Monsignor Manuel Fernandez, 71, served as a priest in Trenton from 1971 to 2002; as rector at Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, 151 N. Warren St., Trenton, from 1998 to 2002; as administrator at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 540 N. Olden Ave., Trenton, from 1999 to 2002, and as pastor at St. Joseph's in 2002.

The allegation surrounding Fernandez stemmed from 1982, charging he "engaged in inappropriate conduct with an adolescent female," according to the Diocese of Trenton.

After the Diocese received the complaint, an investigation was launched by the Diocesan Response Team, and they recommended the removal of Fernandez.

"Father Manny" resigned from his positions and agreed to a leave of absence. He collected his belongings and left without saying much to parishioners, moving back to his native Spain, according to a news account in The Trentonian.

"I am profoundly sorry for the terrible pain caused to any victims and their families in sexual abuse cases," said Bishop John Smith at the time in a prepared statement.

"I want to stress that, consistent with our policy, we will continue to offer counseling for persons who make such complaints.

"The Diocese is striving to take all the steps necessary to follow through on any complaint in a way that the rights of all parties will be handled respectfully."

The dismissal of Fernandez hurt the city's Latino community, many said.

"He opened the door for a lot of the Latinos in the community ... that's the Manny I know," said Councilman Manuel Segura. "He one of the most kind men and genuine men that I know I have nothing negative to say about this man.

"The way he conducted business was the most humane possible way. It's a shock to me."

Those who knew Fernandez closely called the reverend a "wonderful man" and said he was important in helping local Latinos find a Spanish-speaking mass.

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