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DC Police Arrest Columbia Heights Catholic Priest for Child Sexual Abuse

By: Allan M. Siegel

DC police have arrested a local Catholic priest on charges of child sexual abuse. According to authorities, 46-year-old Urbano Vazquez was taken into custody Wednesday, November 8 in connection to allegations that he had sexual contact with a teenage girl in May of 2015. Vazquez had served at Shrine of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic parish in Columbia Heights / Mount Pleasant, since 2014.

A statement from DC police notes that the victim was 13 years of age at the time of the alleged abuse, when Vazquez would have been 42. In a statement made to law enforcement, she said that on two separate occasions, Vazquez had reached down her shirt and touched her bare breast. The allegation against Vazquez was reported to DC police after the Archdiocese of Washington was informed of the incident last month from the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, an order which oversees Sacred Heart.

The archdiocese released a statement following the arrest stating that this was the first allegation against Vazquez, and that his priestly duties have been suspended. They added that since the initial claim was reported to law enforcement, additional allegations against Vazquez were reported.

The archdiocese also noted that after reviewing the matter, Sacred Heart Pastor Moises Villalta failed in his obligations to follow abuse allegation reporting guidelines. The archdiocese has removed Villalta from his position, and placed the parish’s child protection coordinator on administrative leave for similar reasons.

First Arrest Following Civil Investigations into DC Area Catholic Churches

Wednesday’s arrest of Father Urbano Vazquez is the latest development in the scandal surrounding the Catholic Church and specifically the Archdiocese of Washington. Recent incidents involving sexual abuse and the archdiocese include:

  • Civil Investigations – As we discussed in a previous blog post, the District of Columbia and the state of Virginia have opened civil investigations into sexual abuse allegations against clergy and members of the church, as well as possible cover-ups and concealment of abuse by church leaders at parishes across DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland.
  • Resignation of Washington Archbishop – In October, Cardinal Donald Wuerl resigned from his position as head of the Washington archdiocese after a Pennsylvania grand jury report implicated him in covering up clergy abuse in the Pittsburgh diocese. The previous Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was removed from public ministry by the Archdiocese of New York after a review board found credible evidence that he sexually abuse a 16-year-old boy while he was a priest in New York.
  • Named of former priests accused of abuse released – Following Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation in October, the archdiocese released the names of over two dozen former priests who had been credibly accused of child sexual abuse dating back 70 years.

CSCS: Protecting the Rights of Survivors

As a law firm that has been trusted by victims of DC area for more than 45 years, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. offers our support and guidance to survivors and families throughout Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Our legal team has been closely following the investigations into the Catholic Church and local parishes, and is prepared to leverage our experience in cases involving sexual abuse and sexual misconduct to protect the rights of survivors as they navigate the process of reporting their allegations and pursue justice and compensation for their losses. As the investigation continues, authorities expect more victims to step forward.

While standing up against abuse is a difficult task, it can be an important step to ensuring accountability, needed changes within the church, and prevention of sexual abuse and cover-ups moving forward. Survivors with any information about abuse, or who wish to report allegations, are encouraged to contact authorities with the District’s Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, or the Virginia State Police.

Our award-winning attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. are committed to providing the caring and compassionate support survivors need as they step forward, and the proven skills and insight to fight for the justice they deserve. If you would like to speak with an attorney about your rights and how we can help you take the next steps, call (202) 644-8303 or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation.