Crime & Courts

Former Columbia priest suspended after allegedly touching girl at SC wave pool

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Fayetteville Observer in Tuesday.
The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Fayetteville Observer in Tuesday.

A Catholic priest who formerly worked in Columbia has been placed on leave by the state’s Catholic bishop following his mid-July arrest on charges of inappropriately touching a girl at a public wave pool.

The Rev. Javier Heredia worked at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Columbia from mid-2014 until the end of 2016, the S.C. Catholic Diocese said Friday in a news release.

Heredia has denied the allegations, the diocese said.

The news release gave few details of the alleged incident, except the “inappropriate contact” was “outside the clothing” of the minor female. The church did not disclose the girl’s age, specify where the incident took place or say whether it took place during a church function.

Upon learning of the arrest, as required by diocesan policy, Bishop Robert Guglielmone “immediately” placed Heredia on administrative leave, the news release said. That means Heredia is not allowed to act as a priest, wear clerical clothing, be on the campus of either of the two parish churches that he served or take part in any parish activities pending the result of an investigation by the York County Sheriff’s Department.

The news release quoted Bishop Guglielmone as saying, “We hoped there would be a quick resolution to the matter, but given the time that has passed with no conclusion, we felt it appropriate to inform the parishes about the allegation.”

It usually takes months — or more than a year — for criminal charges to be resolved in S.C. courtrooms. Meanwhile, Heredia is free on a $2,500 bond, which he posted the day after his arrest.

Before his arrest, Heredia was administrator of the St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Lancaster and the St. Michael Catholic Mission in Great Falls.

Reports of priests sexually abusing children, and cover-ups by high-ranking church officials, have rocked the Catholic Church. Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued a report saying more than 300 “predator priests” had been accused credibly of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in six dioceses in that state since 1947.

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A diocese is a geographic area under the supervision of a bishop. South Carolina has one diocese, headquartered in Charleston.

The S.C. bishop said diocesan officials have informed parishioners at the Lancaster, Great Falls and Columbia Catholic churches about Heredia’s arrest.

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