San Diego, Calif. — A California priest was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting a seminarian. After his conviction, Father Juan Garcia Castillo will be listed on California’s sex offender registry, and could face up to six months of incarceration.
During a week-long trial, the San Diego seminarian assaulted by Father Castillo testified that the priest approached him Feb. 4 in a restaurant bathroom and groped his genitals twice.
The assault followed a night in which Father Castillo took two seminarians to a bar and restaurant after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where the priest served as parochial vicar. The seminarian said they had several drinks, and that Castillo encouraged him to drink to excess.
The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight, and that Father Castillo approach him from behind and groped him.
In September, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego told CNA that the diocese had not publicly commented on the allegations because “we need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear.”
Father Castillo’s defense did not address consent, but instead denied that contact between the men was sexual.
The priest told jurors Dec. 14 that when he touched the seminarian, he was trying to put pressure on the man’s stomach in order to help him stop vomiting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Father Castillo told jurors he put one hand on the seminarian’s back and then “tried to put my other hand on his stomach.”
“My mom always put pressure on my stomach to calm down, stop the vomiting. That’s what I was taught as a kid,” he said. Father Castillo added that he might have “accidentally” touched the seminarian’s genitals, but that he couldn’t recall.
Father Castillo sent text messages to the seminarian after the incident, offering apologies, but not specifying what the apologies were for, San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Father Castillo told jurors he was apologizing for encouraging the seminarian to drink to excess. However, in one exchange, a seminarian accused the priest of “sexually com[ing] on to seminarians.”
Father Castillo responded: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
A jury decided Dec. 17 that Father Castillo’s contact constituted misdemeanor sexual battery. He is expected to be sentenced within a month.
Father Castillo, who is also known as Father Juan Gabriel Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. The priest, 35, was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said that “upon reviewing the facts regarding the allegation of sexual assault against Father Castillo, the diocese of San Diego removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately and permanently.”
According to the Tribune, the bishop said, “We are deeply saddened by the victimization of one of our students, and the damage to society and the Church that it represents.”