ROME – A former Mexican priest has been sentenced to 63 years in jail after being found guilty of sexually abusing a minor from 1994 to 1998. In July 2016, Pope Francis wrote to the victim in the case, asking for his forgiveness “in the name of the Church.”
Carlos López Valdez, who was removed from the clerical state in 2011 by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was sentenced on Tuesday in a Mexican court.
The Archdiocese of Mexico City, led by newly appointed Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, released a statement affirming the sentence and manifesting the local church’s “full availability to cooperate with the authorities in procuring justice in society.
“We will not be satisfied until this evil is removed,” the statement released on Tuesday said. “As Pope Francis recently said, this is one of the priorities of the Church of our time.”
The archdiocese also expressed support for the victim and his family, adding that these “terrible behaviors produce pain and shame in us,” while reinforcing a commitment to do whatever is necessary to heal these situations.
Reiterating calls from both Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Francis, the diocese pledged “zero tolerance” in cases of abuse and vowed to inform authorities when allegations arise, as well as to “recognize the evil and to ask for forgiveness.”
Local media are labeling the sentence against López Valdez as “historic,” since it’s the first time a Mexican priest has been legally condemned for sexually abusing minors. Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, was found guilty of sexually abusing minors by the Vatican and sentenced to a life of “penitence and prayer,” yet he was never sentenced by a Mexican court.
López Valdez, 70, has been found guilty of abusing Jesús Romero Colín, who told Univision that the sentence speaks “of the gravity of the crimes this priest committed against me.”
“It’s been almost 10 years of fight to achieve justice,” he said. The sentence came on March 8, but was made public by the courts on Tuesday.
Romero was 11 and serving as an altar boy when he was first abused by the priest.
The priest was officially removed from ministry in 2011, but according to several Mexican newspapers, he continued to celebrate Mass in Mexico City and in the state of Cuernavaca. He was imprisoned in 2016.
The victim also stated that the sentence says “many things to society, the victims of abuse and rapes by the clergy, and the institutions that have been protecting this priest from justice.”
Romero also accused the hierarchy of the Mexican church of constantly attempting to discredit the victims and protect the abusers.
“I don’t forget that Cardinal Norberto Rivera said that I was looking for money, fame, and to attack the Church,” the victim said, speaking of the former archbishop of Mexico City.
In 2016, when Francis visited Mexico, Romero tried to meet with the pontiff. However, the encounter didn’t take place. Four months later, in July, the survivor received a letter handwritten by the pope, in response to one he’d sent to Rome.
“With pain and shame, I re-read it and with the same sentiments I answer to you,” the pope is quoted as having written. “I ask for forgiveness in the name of the Church, with simplicity I ask for it. I have no other word.”
The pontiff also wrote that he was praying for Romero and for everyone who’s “gone through this martyrdom. I want to be close. In you and everyone who’s suffered this I see the outraged face of Christ.”