Archdiocese helped priest flee, suit says

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 10, 2008 - 11:47 PM

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis denies allegation that it enabled an Ecuadoran priest to leave after he allegedly molested a 4-year-old girl.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Wednesday was accused of helping an Ecuadoran priest flee the United States last year after he allegedly molested a 4-year-old girl in Minneapolis.

The allegation is contained in a lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court against the archdiocese and the Rev. Francisco (Fredy) Montero, who left for Ecuador in July 2007 while under investigation for criminal sexual conduct involving the girl.

The archdiocese denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

"Archdiocesan officials had absolutely no role in the priest's departure to his home country," said church spokesman Dennis McGrath in a prepared statement. "We had no way to hold him here."

McGrath said when the girl's mother called church officials about the allegations, the archdiocese called police to investigate.

The girl is the daughter of a parishioner with whom Montero, 41, was living and having an affair while serving as a priest at the Church of the Incarnation in Minneapolis.

"That was how he gained access to her," Jeff Anderson, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the 4-year-old, said at a news conference Wednesday. "He used that position to ... molest her."

The suit does not seek specific monetary damages, but does say it will be asking for more than $50,000.

While Montero was living with the woman, he was supposed to be residing with the archdiocese's vicar general, Kevin McDonough, in St. Paul.

Anderson said during the news conference that McDonough and the archdiocese should have known that Montero, 41, wasn't living in the church rectory and should have been more vigilant in keeping track of his activities.

More importantly, Anderson said, the archdiocese could have ordered him to stay in the Twin Cities long enough for the police investigation to end.

Montero was arrested in the summer of 2007 and booked into the Hennepin County jail in connection with an investigation of criminal sexual conduct. He was released after being held over a weekend, pending further investigation.

'Not his keeper'

McGrath acknowledged that Montero was supposed to be living with McDonough but denied that it was the vicar general's responsibility to monitor Montero.

"Father McDonough was not his keeper," McGrath said. "When [McDonough] inquired about the priest's odd hours, he was told that the Hispanic faithful he served worked nights and often had need of his ministry, which seemed plausible."

Montero came to the Twin Cities in 2002 through an exchange program with the Ecuadoran diocese of Guandara, which also was named as a defendant in the suit.

Anderson said in the lawsuit that the Guandara diocese "sent an agent whom they knew or should have known was dangerous and unfit to Minnesota, where they knew he would work with vulnerable adults and youth."

By all accounts Montero was quite popular with the Spanish-speaking parishioners and the church hierarchy. In fact, he was something of a celebrity in the Twin Cities Latino community.

Not only did he help start a Spanish-language newspaper for the archdiocese, he was featured in numerous newspaper articles. Montero also hosted a weekly radio program.

Montero's arrest sent shock waves through the Latino community, which rallied around him despite rumors about his arrest and why he left the country so suddenly.

Montero left the United States about a week after his release from jail, before Minneapolis police and the Hennepin County attorney's office had completed their investigations.

McGrath pointed out that Montero's five-year tour in Minnesota was up last year. He said the Ecuadoran diocese recalled the priest after being notified of the allegations.

Pat Diamond, a deputy county attorney, said his office released Montero because there was insufficient evidence to charge him. He said police were asked to provide more information so a decision on charges could be made.

Insufficient evidence

Although Montero left, police completed their investigation last October. Diamond said the county attorney declined to press charges because of insufficient evidence.

Diamond said Wednesday that the case could be reopened if new evidence comes to light.

Before he left the Twin Cities, the archdiocese sent a letter to Montero's superiors in Ecuador detailing the allegations, including claims that he misappropriated large sums of money in Minnesota.

Anderson said local church authorities stripped Montero of his duties here, and he assumed that the priest would be defrocked once he returned to Ecuador.

Instead, Anderson said on Wednesday, his investigators discovered that Montero is in Ecuador working with children at his old parish.

"We're here to sound the alarm," Anderson said, "so that what happened to this child doesn't happen to any of the children in Ecuador."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280

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