Capuchin priest who served at Sacred Heart Parish in Washington arrested on child sexual abuse charges
Nov. 8, 2018
US & World
Father Urbano Vazquez, a priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin serving as a parochial vicar at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Parish in Washington, was arrested Nov. 7 on charges of second-degree child sexual abuse.
A statement from the D.C. Metropolitan Police said 46-year-old Father Vazquez was arrested in connection with an incident that allegedly occurred in May 2015, when “the suspect engaged in sexual contact with a juvenile victim without permission.”
Father Vazquez had served since 2014 as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart, a parish in the Mount Pleasant/Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington that serves a predominately Spanish-speaking Catholic community.
In a statement issued after Father Vazquez’s arrest, the Archdiocese of Washington said that on Oct. 26, the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin informed the archdiocese that it had received an allegation of sexual abuse against Father Vazquez, a member of that religious order, and that the allegation was also reported to the D.C. Metropolitan Police.
“The archdiocese is fully cooperating in this investigation and encourages anyone with information that may be helpful to the authorities to contact Detective Eric Walsh, Youth and Family Services Division, Physical and Sexual Abuse Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department at 202-568-1971,” the archdiocesan statement said.
According to several reports, the victim was a 13-year-old girl at the time of the alleged abuse, and Father Vazquez was 42 years old.
“This was the first report to the archdiocese of this allegation of sexual abuse and immediately upon learning of this serious allegation, the archdiocese immediately removed Father Vazquez from ministry and suspended his priestly faculties,” the archdiocesan statement said. “Since the initial claim to police, additional allegations against Father Vazquez were reported.”
The archdiocesan statement said that following the mandates of its Child Protection Policy, Father Vazquez underwent the required criminal background check, application and education to work with young people, and that the priest had “cleared the background check and accompanying requirements.”
In addition, the archdiocese said that following its own investigation into “this troubling matter,” it discovered Capuchin Franciscan Father Moises Villalta, pastor of Sacred Heart, “failed to follow appropriate protocols related to reporting allegations of abuse to civil authorities and the Archdiocese of Washington.” The archdiocese subsequently removed Father Villalta as pastor and placed the parish’s child protection coordinator on administrative leave.
The Archdiocese of Washington has had a Child Protection Policy that has been in effect for more than three decades. When the Archdiocese of Washington instituted the policy in 1986, it was one of the first dioceses in the United States to do so. The policy mandates immediate reporting of abuse allegations to civil authorities.
It also requires a thorough background check for all employees, clergy and volunteers who have substantial contact with children. The policy requires two forms of background checks – electronic background checks and fingerprinting.
The policy also requires assisting those who have been harmed, and extensive education and training on how to prevent and identify mistreatment of children and youth. Everyone working with young people in the archdiocese is required to attend a “Protecting God’s Children for Adults” workshop, which are offered in English and Spanish throughout the year in various locations throughout the archdiocese.
The Archdiocese of Washington also makes resources and information about protecting children available online at https://adw.org/about-us/policies-and-resources/child-protection. There, parents will find information on the archdiocese’s child protection efforts, safety tips, how to recognize Internet and cyber bullying and other information.
In addition to that policy, the archdiocese has an independent Child Protection Advisory Board comprised of lay experts and a clergy member that advises on and monitors compliance with child protection efforts. The Child Protection Advisory Board ensures policies are properly looked at, reviewed and implemented and prepares an audit report that is published annually in the Catholic Standard.
The archdiocese is committed to meeting the needs of survivors of abuse and reporting such allegations to authorities, and encourages anyone who may have been abused by a priest, employee or volunteer of the Archdiocese of Washington, or who is aware of any suspected abuse, to contact the archdiocese’s Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment at 301-853-5302.
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