A New York priest who has been on probation for nearly six years for child sex abuse has disappeared after another family accused him of molesting a 6-year-old girl.
Father Augustus Cortez was previously convicted of groping a 12-year-old girl, but he had been allowed to continue serving as a priest for the Vincentian religious order in Brooklyn.
Police arrested the 50-year-old Cortez and questioned him in the latest case but allowed him to leave in his own car, and he hasn’t been seen since, reported Newsday.
A warrant was issued for his arrest on first-degree sexual abuse charges.
Family members said Cortez molested the girl in June during a high school graduation party for her older sister.
“I heard him jump up and get startled,” the girl’s mother told WLNY-TV. “He was very scared and afraid and when I walked around the other side he approached the window and in the reflection, I saw him I saw him pull up his zipper. That’s when I first knew that he was doing something wrong. I was very shocked.”
The victim contracted a sexually transmitted disease from the priest, relatives said.
Cortez pleaded guilty in 2008 to forcible touching after admitting to reaching inside a preteen girl’s shirt to feel her breast, the newspaper reported, and was sentenced to six years on probation.
The Rev. Michael Carroll, provincial of the Vincentian order, wrote a letter to the court insisting that Cortez would not be permitted to present himself as a priest but would instead be given a non-clerical role such as bookkeeper or gardener.
The church official said Cortez would be supervised and given no contact with children, but Newsday reported family photos show the clergyman with both daughters over a period of several years.
He also continued to say Mass, the family said, although the Vincentians said in a statement that Cortez was not authorized to engage in public ministry or to be alone with children.
A victims-rights organization said Cortez, a Guatemalan native, should have never been allowed to continue serving as a priest after his prior sex abuse conviction.
“Vincentian officials should have immediately removed him to a remote and secure treatment facility so that he could not harm another child,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Instead they allegedly wrote letters on Cortez’s behalf. It is deeply upsetting, although not surprising, that Cortez has abused another child, by exploiting the trust of an unsuspecting family.”
Clohessy called on Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio to ask church officials and parishioners to come forward with any information about Cortez, his whereabouts, and possible additional crimes.
Watch this video report posted online by WCBS-TV: