Archdiocese accused of helping sex abuser flee

Twin Cities Catholic officials deny allegation involving popular priest

By Kevin Harter

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is accused of helping a priest flee to his native Ecuador after he was accused of molesting a child while working in Minnesota, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court.

The allegations against the Rev. Francisco Montero, a popular priest who wrote for the Spanish edition of the archdiocesan newspaper and hosted a Sunday morning radio show, are the latest in a series of high-profile sexual abuse charges against the nation’s Roman Catholic clergy. Archdiocesan officials denied the lawsuit’s accusations Wednesday afternoon.

Often referred to as Father “Fredy,” Montero used his position to coerce and manipulate the child from the Church of the Incarnation in South Minneapolis into having sexual contact with him last year, according to the lawsuit. Church officials notified police after they learned of the accusation in June 2007. Montero, 41, returned to Ecuador the following month.

“Father Montero is a cunning, clever, charming manipulator,” said Jeff Anderson, the St. Paul attorney nationally known for representing victims of clergy abuse. He is representing the child and her mother. Their names were not given in the lawsuit.

Wednesday’s filing was quickly denounced by archdiocesan officials, calling the lawsuit “sensationalized charges against the Archdiocese,” said Dennis B. McGrath, director of communications, in a written statement. The archdiocese noted the molestation accusation had been investigated by police and no charges were filed.

But Montero’s return to Ecuador came four months before the Hennepin County attorney’s office said there was “insufficient evidence” to support charges against the priest, Anderson noted.

“I’m scared for the kids in Ecuador. The archdiocese still has not learned the lesson that you can’t hide, or be complicit in moving these priests,” Anderson said.

The lawsuit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages, also alleges that the Diocese of Guaranda in Ecuador, which ordained Montero, “knew or should reasonably have known of Montero’s dangerous and exploitative propensities” as a child sexual abuser.

Montero came to Minnesota in 2002, leading Spanish Masses at churches in Eagan and Minneapolis. He helped start Espiritu Catolico, a Spanish version of the archdiocesan newspaper. He also hosted a spiritual radio show on KLBB-AM. According to the lawsuit, between 2006 and 2007, he was supposedly living with the vicar general of the archdiocese.

The child attended the Church of the Incarnation, where Montero taught her how to pray and counseled her and her family on spiritual matters. The lawsuit accuses the priest of repeated sexually molesting the girl in February and March 2007, when she was 3 to 4 years old.

Officials later learned that Montero would often stay overnight at the home where he was counseling the girl’s mother, according to the lawsuit.

Archdiocese officials heard of the allegations in June 2007 and notified Minneapolis police. Investigators arrested Montero on June 27. The archdiocese told Montero he no longer could minister at his Minneapolis parish or conduct Saturday Masses at St. John Neumann Church in Eagan.

Montero was released from jail within 48 hours because police did not have enough evidence to charge him. The investigation apparently remained open when Montero left the country on July 16.

The molestation allegation was investigated and the findings were turned over to prosecutors for their review in the fall of 2007, said Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia.

Deputy Hennepin County District Attorney Pat Diamond said Wednesday that after reviewing the case, “there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.”

No charges were filed, and the Minneapolis case was closed.

McGrath, the archdiocese spokesman, said staff members notified police immediately upon hearing of the accusations again Montero. They also notified his bishop back home, who recalled Montero to Ecuador.

With no pending charges, Montero was free to go, McGrath said.

“Archdiocesan officials had absolutely no role in the priest’s departure to his home country of Ecuador,” his statement said.

But part of the church’s response – revealing that the mother admitted having an affair with Montero – rankled her attorney.

“It is shameful for them to make that assertion. It is more deceit and deception,” said Anderson, adding that the mother is also a victim.

And even if true, he said, it raises the question of whether Montero could be charged and prosecuted for taking advantage of someone he was counseling.

Montero could not be reached for comment Wednesday but earlier told an associate of Anderson’s that the accusations against him were not true.

Kevin Harter can be reached at 800-950-9080, ext. 2149.