CHICAGO — Two priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago were arrested Monday in Miami, after the men were reportedly found engaged in a sex act within a parked car. At least one of them was a participant in a program for Hispanic seminarians that was suspended by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

One of the priests, Father Diego Berrio, is the pastor of Misión San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He was also appointed this summer the interim “coordinator of the Office for Extern and International Priests.” The other priest, Father Edwin Cortez, reportedly listed the parish as his address when he was arrested, but CNA could not confirm whether he is assigned to the parish.

The priests were both charged with lewd conduct, and Father Cortez was also charged with indecent exposure.

Father Berrio was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2008. Father Berrio was a judge on the Metropolitan Tribunal from 2014 to the present

The priest, a native of Colombia, came to Chicago through the Casa Jesus program, a “house of discernment” in which prospective seminarians from Latin America were invited to consider the priesthood during a yearlong program sponsored by the archdiocese. The program was founded in 1987.

The Casa Jesus program was suspended in 2016. In that year, NBC 5 Chicago reported homosexual activity among Casa Jesus participants and said that in 2015 three participants had been dismissed after visiting a gay bar.

In September 2016, Father Octavio Munoz was arrested on child-pornography charges. Father Munoz was the rector of Casa Jesus from 2008 to 2015, when he was transferred to a parish in the archdiocese.

On July 7, 2015, Father Kevin Hays, who had been appointed to replace Father Munoz as rector, toured the priest’s apartment with a Church employee, according to an ABC 7 Chicago report.

The employee claimed that a laptop belonging to Father Munoz was streaming child pornography while he and Father Hays were in the apartment. The employee reportedly contacted archdiocesan officials about the pornography more than a week later and was surprised to learn that Father Hays had not yet reported the matter.

The archdiocese contacted private investigators after the matter was reported, but did not contact police until July 28, the same day Father Munoz was removed from ministry, according to the Chicago Tribune.

ABC 7 reported that Father Hays told archdiocesan officials he had not seen pornographic videos playing while visiting the apartment. Father Hays is now the pastor of Notre Dame de Chicago parish in Chicago.

In a statement issued shortly after Father Munoz was charged, the Archdiocese of Chicago said: “On July 28, 2015, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich removed Father Muñoz from ministry and withdrew his faculties, his authority to minister, after the archdiocese learned that the inappropriate material might involve minors. Given the nature of that material, the archdiocese reported it promptly to the civil authorities and have cooperated fully with their investigation.”

Another Chicago priest, Father Clovis Vilchez-Parra, was also arrested on child-pornography charges in 2015. The priest had been serving as parochial vicar at Misión San Juan Diego, where Father Berrio was pastor. Father Vilchez-Parra was sentenced to four years in prison in 2017.

NBC 5 Chicago reported in 2016 that Father Vilchez-Parra had ties to Casa Jesus, but did not say whether he had been a participant in the program.

Also in 2015, the Archdiocese of Chicago removed Father Marco Mercado, who had been a Casa Jesus participant, from his position as pastor of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Illinois. The archdiocese said that Father Mercado had had an “inappropriate relationship with an adult man.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago could not be reached for comment but has released a press release, noting that Father Berrio has been removed from ministry and Father Cortes is not allowed to minister in the archdiocese:

We were informed this morning that Rev. Diego Berrio, pastor of Misión San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights, Ill., and Rev. Edwin Giraldo Cortes, an extern priest from Soacha, Colombia, who served at St. Aloysius parish in Chicago for one month, Aug. 1 to Aug. 31, 2018, were arrested in Miami on Sept. 3, 2018. Father Berrio was charged with a misdemeanor charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. Father Cortes was charged with misdemeanor charges of lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, has removed FatherBerrio from ministry and withdrawn his faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago, effective immediately. The archdiocese will appoint an administrator for the Misión San Juan Diego as soon as possible.

Archdiocese representatives have been in contact with Father Cortes’ home diocese of Soacha, Colombia, and informed them that Father Cortes will not be granted additional faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

It is our responsibility to ensure those who serve our people are fit for ministry. We take this matter very seriously and will provide updates as they become available.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich
Archbishop of Chicago

 

Register staff added to this report.