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Two priests, former cleric leave jobs abroad after news reports

Thu., April 14, 2005

DALLAS – Three high-profile Catholics have left their jobs abroad since the Dallas Morning News reported that they had sexually abused children while serving as priests in the United States.

The three are:

The Rev. Ivan Rovira, who officials say has resigned as rector of a Catholic university in Matamoros, Mexico, and quit celebrating Mass at the cathedral there. In 2002, he had left the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, just across the Rio Grande, after being accused of rape and admitting to church superiors that he had abused a boy.

Former priest Ron Voss, who was running a charity in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that helps poor young people there and U.S. Catholic missionaries. He had left Lafayette, Ind., in the 1980s after being accused of abuse and later was removed from the priesthood after telling the Vatican that he had molested many boys.

The Rev. Jose Luis Urbina, a pastor in the northwestern Mexico city of Navojoa. He fled Sacramento, Calif., in 1989 after pleading guilty to abusing a boy but before he could be sentenced.

U.S. bishops said they told their Mexican counterparts years ago that Urbina and Rovira should not work in ministry because of their history of abuse.

Previously, some Matamoros diocesan representatives said that Rovira had been falsely accused. The accusations, made by four men who knew him as boys in the 1970s and 1980s, are too old to prosecute.

Urbina’s boss in Mexico, Ciudad Obregon Bishop Vicente Garcia, has said he thought the case against his priest, too, had expired. But Sacramento church records show that the bishop was told more than a decade ago about Urbina’s conviction.

After learning that the Dallas Morning News had found the priest in active ministry in Mexico, Sacramento Bishop William Weigand sent Bishop Garcia a strongly worded letter. “I respectfully urge Your Excellency, in the interests of the safety of the people of the Diocese of Ciudad Obregon, to remove this man from ministry at once and turn him over to law enforcement authorities in Mexico,” it said.

Garcia has not responded to the letter, a Sacramento spokesman said.

Prosecutors say they are examining whether they can force Urbina back to California for sentencing. They had not tried previously, citing lack of information about his whereabouts and poor extradition relations between the United States and Mexico.

Voss, unlike the priests in Mexico, was beyond the church’s control because he’d been defrocked. Yet U.S. Catholic leaders – including some who knew of his past – continued to support his unofficial ministry in Haiti.

Church officials there said they had not been advised of his abuses in Indiana, which never resulted in charges.

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