Bishop responds to report of child abuse allegation
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this message at all weekend Masses at St. Raphael Church in Springdale July 9-10.
A month ago I was in Seattle for a meeting of the bishops of the United States and once again we reaffirmed our commitment to do all in our power to protect children, to get help for any child who has been harmed and to bring perpetrators to justice. I come before you today because there is a child here in Springdale who may have been harmed by a priest and I need your help to find this child so that we can clarify what -- if anything -- happened, who did it and what kind of help this child and this family need at this time.
Let me share with you what we know, why I am so concerned and what you can do to help. On June 10 St. Joseph Parish in Fayetteville received a phone call in Spanish to warn us that a priest was in danger of suffering bodily harm at the hands of a man who believed that his child had been touched improperly during confession by a priest serving in our diocese. The only information given was the name of the caller, the name of the alleged victim and the detail that he was an altar server in Springdale.
We could not follow up on the call because the number was blocked, and though the stated purpose of the call was just to warn us that a priest was in danger, it was clear that a child may have been abused -- so we implemented immediately our policy for handling such claims. We removed the priest from ministry until the credibility of the allegation could be determined and we reported the alleged abuse to the State Child Abuse Hotline.
Unfortunately, to this date neither we nor the police have been able to locate the alleged victim to verify the information. The caller's name does not appear on any parish list or phone book in northwest Arkansas and did not turn up on an internet search. There is no child by the name given on the list of altar servers in any parish in the area and the police investigation found no child by that name enrolled in any school in NW Arkansas.
The priest being threatened is Father Ruben Quinteros but the circumstances of the alleged abuse do not correspond to his activities in the parish, suggesting it may be someone else. I believe we may be dealing with a case of mistaken identity -- if this parent was not active in the parish, he could easily have jumped to the conclusion that the Hispanic priest in Springdale at the time he learned of the alleged incident must have been the one who did it. We sent photos to the police so they could ask the child to identify the perpetrator and thereby clear Father Ruben's name, but so far the police have not found any child to interview. We must always presume innocence until proven otherwise and to this point we have no proof of anything, only a phone call that not even the police can follow up on and a man who threatens to take the law into his own hands.
Our Diocesan Review Board met on June 21 and examined all the information we had at our disposal. They determined that the allegation against Father Ruben was not credible and that if abuse has occurred, the perpetrator was probably someone else. The Review Board agreed that Father Ruben could be allowed to resume his ministry in De Queen.
Unfortunately, we have no way to contact the man who is threatening Father Ruben. On June 19 the rectory in DeQueen was vandalized in what appears to be an act of rage -- I hate to think what might have happened if Father Ruben had been there at the time. In investigating this crime it was learned that a man in a white pickup had been seen parked at the parish on various occasions by different parishioners. He also asked a parishioner, "Where is the Padre?" Moreover the parish office had received a mysterious phone call asking to meet with Father Ruben. When told that he would not be back for several days, the man immediately hung up the phone.
Now, three weeks later the child still has not been located and threat of violence to Father Ruben has not diminished, so today I seek your help. Last Sunday threatening flyers in Spanish were left in the churches in De Queen and Springdale. These flyers make it clear that the author is continuing to stalk Father Ruben and end with this threat: "I am waiting for the right moment to seize him and I swear by my child that I'm going to make him pay."
It is clear that we have a family in distress. I want to provide help to this child and I need your help to find this family so that we can offer them help, verify the credibility of the allegation and determine the true identity of the alleged perpetrator.
I also need your help to protect Father Ruben and to keep an eye out for the person distributing flyers or otherwise acting in a threatening way. We need to stop this man before he commits a greater crime than merely vandalizing a rectory. I do not intend to prosecute him for the vandalism because I well understand the rage that any parent would feel if they believed their child had been harmed by an adult -- and especially by a priest whom we rightly hold to a much higher standard. But we do need to meet with this man to sort out what happened, who did it, and what steps need to be taken going forward.
I have prepared a handout that will be available after Mass containing the facts I have described and a local phone number you can use to contact us with information about this case or any case of child abuse by anyone connected with the Church -- you can call or send a text message and we will follow up on it. We want to create the safest environment possible for our children, but we need your help to do so.
The main thought I want to leave you with is that I am very concerned that we already have one victim out there -- a child who needs help -- and we don't need another. We have been working with law enforcement and have followed all of the steps required by law. It is very important that we follow the rule of law instead of revenge or vigilante justice. Revenge will not bring healing to this family, may very well be directed against the wrong person and it will not help us find out who -- if anyone -- has committed abuse. The author of the flyer claims he has to take the law into his own hands because the Church is not going to do anything -- and nothing could be further from the truth. We have supported the police investigation from the beginning -- indeed, we are the ones who called the police in the first place -- and if the police do file charges against anyone, we will cooperate fully. It is in our interest to protect children and to create a safe environment for everyone. It is also the right thing to do.
We need to communicate this to the person who is responsible for the flyer. Please help me find this child and his family. My prayer is that we will able bring healing to this child, determine what happened and bring the true perpetrator to justice. Meanwhile Father Ruben will be doing other work and De Queen will be covered out of Texarkana. I'll stay after Mass to answer questions but this is everything I know at this point. Please keep all of this in your prayers.
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