Priest who served in Stanislaus County removed over sexual misconduct

January 6, 2010 

The Rev. Leo Suarez, a priest who most recently served at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Modesto, has been removed due to sexual misconduct with a minor 20 years ago, the Stockton Diocese revealed today.

Under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, established by the nation’s bishops in 2002, Suarez will never again be allowed to serve as a priest.

It is not known how old the minor was — whether a child or teen — or if the victim was a boy or a girl. But the timing shows that Suarez, born in Mexico and ordained in the diocese in 1988, was serving at St. Anthony’s in Hughson as an associate priest at the time of the misconduct. It was his first parish assignment.

He served there until 1991, and then moved to St. Stanislaus in Modesto for a year before serving at two Stockton parishes for the next 14 years. Following a study leave in Mexico, he served at Sacred Heart parish in Turlock in 2008-2009 and was moved to Our Lady of Fatima for a short time in 2009 before he was removed and sent to treatment.

It is unclear if the victim reported the abuse to the diocese or if the matter was brought to light in another way. There was no lawsuit filed, said Sister Terry Davis, spokeswoman for the diocese.

A press release from the diocese said no other allegations have been made against Suarez and asked that information about similar incidents be reported to Sister Barbara Thiella, victim assistance counselor, at 466-0636.

Suarez “has expressed deep sorrow over the hurt he has caused,” the press release said. Bishop Stephen Blaire added in the release, “I hold in prayer all who have been hurt by what happened.”

The nation’s most notorious pedophile priest, Oliver O’Grady, had also served at St. Anthony’s in Hughson, although most of his victims came from Stockton parishes.

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012.

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