Former SC priest indicted on charges of sexual abuse of a minor

A federal grand jury has returned a three-count indictment against a former visiting priest who served the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston.
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 3:31 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - A federal grand jury has returned a three-count indictment against a former visiting priest who served the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston for allegedly sexually abusing an 11-year-old child.

Jamie Adolfo Gonzales-Farias, 67, known in church as “Father Gonzalez,” was indicted on coercion and enticement of a minor, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and aggravated sexual abuse of a child.

The grand jury also identified Florida state statutes of lewd or lascivious molestation and lewd or lascivious exhibition as implicated by Gonzales-Farias’s conduct, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Brook Andrews said.

Between Nov. 8 and Nov. 12, 2020, Gonzalez-Farias is accused of taking an 11-year-old child to Florida and engaging in the “intentional touching, not through the clothing, of (the victim’s) genitalia,” according to the indictment.

In a statement. the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston said it learned of the allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in December of 2020, “after he had left the country for his home in Chile.”

“In January 2021, we notified his parishioners about the abuse allegation. Subsequently, retired Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone determined that there were reasonable grounds to believe the allegation,” Diocese spokesperson Maria Aselage said.

The diocese said the Laurens County Sheriff’s Department initially investigated the allegation and then referred it to federal authorities.

“We have cooperated fully with both law enforcement agencies,” Aselage said.

The indictment states Gonzalez-Farias, was ordained as a priest in 1990. On April 20, 2015, he was transferred to South Carolina as a visiting priest.

“At that time, diocesan officials received a clear background check on him. Father then completed the Diocese’s Safe Environment training,” the statement from the diocese states. “In accordance with diocesan policy, he was rescreened in July 2020; no criminal activity was noted on that report.”

Aselage said a visiting priest is one who serves in a diocese on a limited basis, which may include days, weeks, or years. Although he is serving outside his home diocese, a visiting priest is still under the jurisdiction of it and its bishop.

Gonzales-Farias was arrested in Miami on Nov. 28 and placed in the custody of U.S. Marshals.

He made his initial appearance in federal court in Columbia on Monday, and during that hearing prosecutors requested he remain in custody, Andrews said.

Farias faces a mandatory sentence of at least 30 years in federal prison and a maximum of life on the aggravated sexual abuse with a child count. He faces a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years and a maximum of life on the remaining counts. He also faces fines of up to $250,000, a $5,000 special assessment, mandatory restitution payable to any victims, court-ordered supervision for life to follow any term of imprisonment, and requirements to register as a sex offender, Andrews said.

“The exploitation of children – particularly by those in positions of trust – will not be tolerated in our state,” U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said. “Our commitment to victims and survivors is that when they are met with abuse, offenders will be met with a full measure of accountability.”

“The defendant’s alleged actions are deeply troubling,” FBI Columbia Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic said. “The FBI will not stand for crimes committed against children, and we are poised to use the full weight of our agency to protect minors and hold offenders accountable.”

The FBI is seeking the public’s help in identifying potential victims. Anyone who believes they or their children were victimized by Gonzalez-Farias, or anyone with relevant information about Gonzalez-Farias the FBI should know, is asked to call the FBI at 803-551-4200.

Gonzalez-Farias elected to not request a bond at Monday’s hearing and he remains in custody.