After being found guilty on Aug. 15 of four counts of child sexual abuse, Father Urbano Vazquez, a Capuchin Franciscan priest and former parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, D.C., received a sentence of 15 years in prison.

Father Vazquez served at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart from 2014 until 2018. An eight-day trial and two days of jury deliberation in August found him guilty of three felony counts of second-degree child sexual assault with aggravating circumstances, and one misdemeanor count of sexual abuse of a child. 

“This has been a difficult and painful time for the victim-survivors, their families, members of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish community and all of us in the Archdiocese of Washington,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a Nov. 22 statement released by the Archdiocese of Washington. “I take seriously our responsibility to protect the children and vulnerable adults entrusted to our care and remain dedicated to doing all I can to foster healing with my ongoing commitment to ensuring attentiveness and accountability in our local Church.”  

After Father Vazquez's first arrest in November 2018 with charges of second-degree sexual child abuse, the priest was arrested again in December 2018, charged with the abuse of two others, including a minor. He was ordered by D.C. Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna to remain in jail until his trial in August.

In 2018 when the Archdiocese of Washington was made aware of the allegations against Father Vazquez, he was immediately removed from ministry and his priestly faculties were suspended. 

When offered a plea deal in March 2019, Father Vazquez turned the opportunity down and chose a jury trial instead, maintaining his innocence since accusations first rose.

Father Vazquez was charged with second-degree child sexual abuse with a 13-year-old girl in 2015. Additional allegations arose and he was charged with two additional counts, second-degree sexual assault of a minor female and assault of an adult woman in 2016. The victims were all members of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. Father Vazquez also received a misdemeanor sex abuse charge from an accusation that he groped a woman during Confession; two additional misdemeanor allegations were made but due to the expired statute of limitations, they could not be prosecuted.

Courtney Chase, executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment, said in an interview with the Catholic Standard that her office was satisfied with the judgment of the sentencing.

“We are very proud of the victims that came forward, and I think this sentencing confirms that child sex abuse is not going to be tolerated,” she said. “There is zero tolerance of child abuse of any kind, and survivors and victims need to be validated and commended for coming forward with this very painful information and getting justice.” 

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment recently revised the archdiocesan child protection policy in July, expanding its policy to ensure safe environments for people of all ages.

“We stand with the survivors and the victims,” Chase said. “We support the Sacred Heart community. They have been through a very tumultuous, painful time and we are here to support the whole community, keeping them in our thoughts and prayers.

“There is no place in our Church or in any community for sexually abusing a child and the sentence today confirms that as well,” she said.

Anyone who may have been abused by a priest, employee or volunteer of the Archdiocese of Washington, or who may be aware of any suspected abuse, is encouraged to report this immediately to civil authorities and to contact the archdiocesan Office of Child Protection and Safe Environments at 301-853-5302.

Here is the complete Nov. 22 statement from the Archdiocese of Washington: 

This afternoon, Father Urbano Vazquez, O.F.M. Cap., was sentenced to 15 years in prison based on a jury’s prior decision of guilt on several charges of child sexual abuse. In November 2018, the Archdiocese of Washington announced that the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap.), the religious order which for many years has overseen the pastoral ministry and governance of Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish in Washington, had informed the archdiocese for the first time that it had received an allegation of sexual abuse against Father Vazquez. In August 2019, the jury found Father Vasquez guilty of all charges brought against him.

Here below is a statement about the news today from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory:

We learned today that Reverend Urbano Vazquez, O.F.M., Cap. was sentenced to 15 years in prison based on the jury’s prior finding of guilt on numerous charges of child sexual abuse. This has been a difficult and painful time for the victim-survivors, their families, members of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish community and all of us in the Archdiocese of Washington. I take seriously our responsibility to protect the children and vulnerable adults entrusted to our care and remain dedicated to doing all I can to foster healing with my ongoing commitment to ensuring attentiveness and accountability in our local Church.  

If, at any time, individuals become aware of improper conduct by a person involved in archdiocesan ministry, they are encouraged to report this immediately to civil authorities and to contact Courtney Chase, Executive Director of the archdiocese’s Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment at 301-853-5302.