Mexican authorities released a former Sacramento priest who was awaiting extradition to California on charges that he sexually abused two minors nearly 17 years ago.
Sacramento church officials said they have no idea where Gerardo Beltran has gone since his release last week from a Mexico City jail, where he had been held since March.
Diocesan officials said they had been working with the Vatican for nearly two years to remove Beltran and two others, Jose Luis Urbina and Francisco Javier Garcia, from the priesthood. All three worked in the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento and had fled to Mexico after being accused of sexually molesting minors.
On Wednesday, diocesan officials announced that the three men have been laicized, or barred from serving as priests anywhere in the world.
"These men are no longer priests," said Kevin Eckery, diocesan spokesman. "We don't want them as priests and neither does Rome."
Neither Urbina nor Garcia has been arrested.
Beltran, 51, was arrested in March by Mexican authorities and was expected to be extradited to the United States to face charges in Sacramento. He is accused of four counts of child molestation from 1989 to 1991 in cases involving two people. Two more people came forward in April.
Three additional charges have been filed against Beltran for acts in 1988-91, according to the Sacramento County district attorney's office.
Beltran's return, however, is not likely to happen soon, if at all.
"Our understanding is that he was released from custody when Mexican courts ruled that he couldn't be extradited because the statute of limitations had run out," said Jeff Galvin, assistant information officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Officials with the Mexican attorney general's office in Mexico City could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Sacramento prosecutors' office issued a statement Wednesday night: "The warrants for (Beltran's) prosecution here remain valid and active. Should he ever fall within our jurisdiction, the Sacramento district attorney will prosecute."
Sacramento Catholic Church leaders were angered by the turn of events.
"We were really hoping that justice would be served, and people could get their day in court," Eckery said.
Joseph George, who represents people who have accused Beltran, said he was "shocked and speechless."
"Having just sat through a deposition of a Father Beltran victim yesterday who was molested over 100 times, I am extremely disappointed," he said.