Attorneys for McAllen priest deny sexual misconduct allegation

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Attorneys representing the McAllen priest who was recently removed from the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville has responded and denied the allegations in a statement on Saturday. 

Monsignor Gustavo Barrera was removed from his priestly faculties for ministry following an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor that occurred about 35 years ago, Bishop Daniel E. Flores announced in a statement on Wednesday. 

Flores said that an individual, who has not been identified, met with the victim’s assistance coordinator to report the incident, and while they were encouraged to make a report with the police, the individual declined. The victim’s assistance coordinator did file a police report, per policy. 

While the Diocesan Review Board continued in the process of completing its assessment, Barrera submitted his resignation and retirement from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in McAllen. 

Now, Barrera’s attorneys are not only denying the allegation, but also alleging slander against him because the news has so quickly been made public.

Attorneys Ed Stapleton, Thomas Sullivan and Gilbert Piette say that Barrera was stripped of his priestly duties before he had an opportunity to learn of the allegations against him, or to prepare and present a defense, adding that “Priests are entitled to due process.” 

In Flores’ statement, the bishop said he was keeping with diocesan policy and procedures upon receiving the report from the coordinator on March 15. According to the diocese’s Ethical and Responsible Conduct in Ministry guidelines, “The willingness of the Diocese to respond to an allegation is in no way a judgment of the person being accused. Innocence is always presumed until facts prove otherwise.”

In their statement, the attorneys say Barrera “should be given written notice of the accusations against him, an opportunity to be heard, confront his accuser and present evidence.” 

As the attorneys say Barrera should have an impartial review board to determine the facts, they claim that he has not been afforded those protections. They say that Barrera was confronted with an interrogation before he was told who was accusing him and what the claims were, did not get a chance to discover the claimed facts against him and did not receive time to gather witnesses in his own defense. 

In his statement, Flores said that the allegation is being assessed by the Diocesan Review Board, adding that “a credible allegation does not mean guilty beyond a reasonable double; it means there is a semblance of truth sufficient for diocesan protocols to be enacted.”

“During investigations of allegations, the accused may not have contact with alleged victim(s) to ensure the integrity of the investigation and the safety of alleged victim(s) during the information-gathering process. This action should in no way be interpreted as a presumption of guilt,” the Diocese of Brownsville’s policy guidelines stated. “In the event that allegations are not confirmed, the accused Church personnel will resume his or her position as quickly as possible.” 

Barrera’s attorneys also contend that he is not and will not be subject to criminal prosecution since the statute of limitations has long passed, adding that Barrera’s prosecution “would be not only wrong, but illegal.” 

Barrera is the second priest with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville to be removed following similar accusations this year. ​​

Fernando Gonzalez Ortega was removed from his priestly duties at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Brownsville after an individual, who is now an adult, spoke to the Diocesan Victim’s Assistance Coordinator in February.

Gonzalez was arrested and charged with continuing sexual abuse of a child, continuous trafficking of persons, trafficking of persons, sexual assault of a child and sexual performance of a child.

When the diocese receives these types of allegations, its guidelines state that “Communications with an affected faith community (parish, school or other agency), the media and the broader Diocesan community will strive to be timely and clear.”

“These communications will attempt to respect the confidentiality and privacy of all involved, in a manner that promotes collaboration in the community and in accord with any applicable civil and/or canon laws,” the guidelines state.

In his statement, Flores encourages anyone who is a victim of sexual abuse to contact their local police and the Texas Department of Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400. Anyone who has been the victim of abuse within the diocese is also encouraged to contact Victim’s Assistance Coordinator Margie Garcia by calling (956) 238-1455 or by sending an email to [email protected].

“The Diocese of Brownsville takes seriously any allegation of sexual misconduct with children and vulnerable adults,” Flores said in the statement. “The safety and well-being of all people are of utmost importance, and the Church’s safe environment policies seek to protect all of God’s children.”