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Police: Fremont Priest Admitted to Inappropriately Touching Teen Repeatedly

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The Diocese of Oakland has placed the Rev. Hector David Mendoza-Vela on administrative leave after he was arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing a child. (Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Updated Tuesday, 8 p.m.

Father Hector David Mendoza-Vela, the pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont, told police that he touched the genitals of a teenage boy over his pants at least 20 times over an 18-month period, according to court documents released Tuesday.

Mendoza-Vela is charged with 30 counts of lewd acts with a child between the ages of 14 and 15 between June 2016 and December 2017. Alameda County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said the priest met his victim while at St. John the Baptist Parish in San Lorenzo, where he worked from 2013-2016, and that most of the abuse occurred at the victim's home in Hayward.

According to police, an adult told detectives Thursday evening that an unnamed victim, referred to as John Doe, had told them that he had been sexually assaulted by Mendoza-Vela. (In court records, his last name is listed as just Vela, as opposed to Mendoza-Vela in church records.)

According to court documents, the victim told police that Mendoza-Vela "inappropriately touched [him] a minimum of 30 times in his genital area. During one of these incidents, Vela inserted one of his bare hands into Doe's pants and touched his bare penis." In a recorded phone call with the victim Thursday evening, police say Mendoza-Vela admitted to touching Doe's penis, knowing he was underage, and apologized.

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office arrested Mendoza-Vela later that evening at Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont, after which the priest confessed to inappropriately touching the victim's genitals at least 20 times. According to court documents, he also wrote an apology letter to the victim's family.

He was booked into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and had been held there on $900,000 bail prior to his first court appearance on Tuesday, where his bail was revoked. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 24.

Father Hector David Mendoza-Vela was arrested on Thursday night and charged with 30 counts of felony child molestation.
Father Hector David Mendoza-Vela was arrested on Thursday night and charged with 30 counts of felony child molestation. (Alameda County Sheriff's Office)

Mendoza-Vela, 42, was born in El Salvador and came to the United States in 2008. He was ordained in 2013 and assigned to St. John the Baptist where he worked until he was appointed to lead Corpus Christi in 2016.

According to Kelly, authorities are unaware of any abuse allegations against Mendoza-Vela in Fremont.

In a letter to Corpus Christi parishioners on Saturday after the church became aware of Mendoza-Vela's arrest, Oakland Bishop Michael Barber said that Mendoza-Vela had been placed on administrative leave and "may not present himself in public as a priest nor engage in any priestly ministry." The letter also encouraged anyone with information about alleged abuse to contact local law enforcement.

Kelly said that when one victim comes forward, it can often help other victims disclose abuse. The Alameda County District Attorney's office has set up a confidential hotline, 510‐272‐6395, for people to report other potential victims or additional information about Mendoza-Vela.

Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) handed out flyers to parishioners outside Corpus Christi on Sunday morning, informing them of Mendoza-Vela's arrest and asking them to call police if they were aware of any other potential victims.

"Usually child molesters don't have one victim especially if it's a molester who in this case was accused of molesting for an 18-month period," said Joey Piscitelli, the Northern California leader of SNAP. "That doesn't sound like it's an isolated case or one-time occasion."

Piscitelli said he was not happy with the response to the arrest from Bishop Barber, which he said did not match the severity of the accusations.

"The judge took it seriously, the police took it seriously, but I don't think the Diocese of Oakland did," he said. He had similarly harsh words for the bishop's statement on Mendoza-Vela's admissions, in which he called the priest’s conduct "unacceptable for anyone, but especially for a man who is supposed to model virtue and grace, not sin and harm," and encouraged anyone with information to call the district attorney's hotline.

"Bishop Barber's response appears on the face to be genuine, but it's a hollow statement that is designed to appear apologetic and sincere, when he has proven that he can't be trusted, and that he is hiding an abundance of information about sex abuse in the Diocese from the public," Piscitelli said in an email.

In February, the diocese released the names of 45 priests it said had been "credibly accused" of abusing minors, going back to the 1960s. The list did not include any active priests, and the most recent accusation was from 1988.

Not on that list was Father Alex Castillo, an Oakland priest who was placed on administrative leave at the end of January after an allegation of inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor. On March 4, church officials announced that Castillo had fled the country.

KQED's Sara Hossaini and Polly Stryker contributed to this report.

This post was originally published on Sunday, March 31.


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