Last week, an unnerving event played out in Ohio, a state steeped in the heart of America. A man of the cloth was slapped with a $250,000 bond. The appalling charge? He allegedly molested a 15-year-old girl who was fighting cancer, cleverly masking his sinister deeds with claimed prayers. Yes, you read that correctly. Under the guise of praying for her, this priest assaulted an underaged cancer patient. Doesn’t this sad tale send a chill down your spine? It swivels our eyes towards other hair-raising cases of clergy members, supposedly paragons of virtue, wrapped in heinous sex crimes. Let’s chew on a few:
- Remember the Steubenville seminary student arrested by Federal agents en route to Tijuana, Mexico? His ghastly mission was to purchase, adopt, and subsequently abuse female infants.
- You might also recall the predatory Nebraska priest who plotted to erase one of his victims permanently by hiring a hitman.
- And, who couldn’t forget the Toledo cleric who molested a minor and had the audacity to take the life of a sister of faith?
Aside from the obvious and deep harm caused by these kinds of shockingly egregious cases, what’s truly gutting is the complicity of the ones we’d expect to blow the whistle. The colleagues and supervisors who turned a blind eye to the glaring ‘red flags’ raise a critical question: what about their culpability? Let’s examine these chilling cases closely.
Chilling Crimes & Cover-Ups
We start with the most recent crime and cover-up. Fr. Luis Jesus Barajas (also known as Fr. Luis Jesus Barajas Arias) was arrested last month in Ohio. Coming from the Maryland-based Catholic group, The Order of the Most Holy Trinity and the Captives, his arrest shocked Ohio. Even more shocking? His active service in the Harrisburg, PA Diocese from ’87 to ’89, despite already having substantiated abuse allegations under his belt. The church hierarchy there ousted him in 1989 because of substantiated abuse reports.
Twenty-odd years later, he finally was named in Harrisburg’s ‘credibly accused’ list in 2018. But the cherry on the top? They funded his move to Colombia, a nation where such predators tend to slip the law’s clutches and are even more likely to be abused. It’s where predators are even less likely to be caught, exposed, and prosecuted.
This most recent victim we mentioned, the cancer-ridden 15-year-old girl, might well have been spared even more trauma had any of Harrisburg’s bishops – Bishop Ronald Gainer (2014-2023), Bishop Joseph McFadden (2010-2013), Bishop Kevin Rhoades (2004-2010), Bishop Nicholas Dattilo (1990-2004) – bothered to post predators’ names in parish bulletins which parishioners much more often check than the diocesan website is. (NOTE: At least five other Trinitarians have been publicly accused of abusing children (Fr. Edward Balestrieri of Trenton, NJ, Fr. David L. Colella of Victoria, TX, Fr. Rudi Gil of San Bernardino, CA, Fr. Timothy M. Murphy of Baltimore MD, Fr. Michael Prouix of Sacramento, CA).
Now, the Steubenville seminarian Joel A. Wright. Once a student of the Pontifical College Josephinum, Wright was arrested by federal agents in San Diego on charges related to seeking to adopt and have sex with multiple female infants in 2016. It seems many a red flag fluttered in his past. According to court documents, two years prior, Wright tried to adopt a baby from Mexico, and his mom told news outlets that at least 40 dioceses and religious orders rejected his applications before his admission to the Pontifical College. It seems pretty clear that some – perhaps dozens – of Catholic officials had seen ‘red flags’ in Wright’s past or current behavior. There’s no evidence, or even a claim, that even one of them called law enforcement about this troubled – and troubling – seminarian.
Then we have the predatory priest from Nebraska, Fr. John Fiala. In 2002, Omaha archdiocesan officials received complaints against Fiala of ‘sexual advances’ that date back to the mid-1980s. Yet, this information remained under wraps until 2010. That same year, the archdiocese faced a lawsuit alleging that Fr. Fiala sexually assaulted a boy in 2007-2008 at gunpoint and threatened to hurt him and his family if the boy told. (Later, the boy tried to kill himself.) Thankfully, in May 2012, Fiala was convicted of solicitation of murder. If the relevant Catholic officials had stepped up, he might have faced the music much earlier, nipping his heinous plans to hire a hitman right in the bud. If the Catholic officials in Nebraska (and later in Texas, Missouri, and Kansas) had acted responsibly, Fr. Fiala would likely have been suspended, publicly exposed, and perhaps even charged and convicted years earlier. He might well have been behind bars and unable to approach a man he thought was a neighbor to arrange the murder of his victim. The ‘neighbor’ was, in fact, an undercover police officer.
Finally, the case of Fr. Gerald Robinson of Toledo is equally shocking. Fr. Robinson was convicted in 2006 of the 1980 ritual murder of a nun at Mercy Hospital, where they both worked. Not only did he murder a nun, but at least four women say that Fr. Robinson – sometimes along with other priests – had molested them as children years before. (One said she was assaulted in the 1960s; another said she was abused in the 1970s.) While it’s not totally clear, it’s very likely that at least one of the four, or another victim, told church authorities of their abuse before Fr. Robinson killed the nun. It’s a baffling thought that these hideous acts may have been stopped if someone could’ve raised the alarm.
The Bottom Line: The next time you stumble upon a shocking story about an especially egregious child predator, stay with it for a minute. Think beyond the horrors of the predator’s deeds. See who should have and could have acted sooner to prevent that predator from hurting others. It’s heartbreaking to admit, but in our experience at Horowitz Law, more often than not, other supposedly responsible individuals kept mum; they, too, share a piece of the blame for these children’s pain.
Before we wrap this up, it’s crucial to note the confusion surrounding Fr. Barajas. One news account said Fr. Barajas was accused of “posing as a retired priest.” That may be wrong. He was ordained in 1982, and it’s unclear whether he’s still a priest.)
Another news outlet reported that Fr. Barajas was “pretending to be a former priest.” He MAY be a former priest. He may CURRENTLY BE a priest. It’s murky, and Catholic officials are not trying to clarify his status.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.