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Former Baltimore priest sentenced to prison for sexual abuse of a minor

PRISON

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Christine Rousselle - published on 05/12/22 - updated on 05/12/22

Fernando Cristancho was kicked out of his Arlington, Virginia parish for sexual misconduct, and later served as priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore where the abuse of a minor occurred.

A man who once served as a priest in several U.S. dioceses was sentenced 22 years in federal prison on Wednesday, May 11, after pleading guilty to coercion and enticement of a minor. 

Fernando Cristancho, 65, also admitted that he had produced nude images of four additional minors. He entered a guilty plea on October 4, 2021, the first day of his trial. 

As part of his plea agreement, Cristancho faced between 10 and 25 years in federal prison. Upon release from prison, Cristancho will register as a sex offender and be monitored for the rest of his life. 

“Cristancho is finally being held accountable for his horrific crimes. Let this sentence serve as a deterrent to anyone that seeks to sexually abuse children, especially those in trusted positions intended to be a safe place and haven for children,” said United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek L. Barron in a press release published May 11 by the Department of Justice.

“The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland will relentlessly pursue and prosecute predators that exploit the trust of children and families,” he said. 

Pled guilty to abuse of a minor

Cristancho pled guilty to the abuse of a minor, referred to as “John Doe,” who, along with his family, was a parishioner at St. Ignatius Church in Hickory, one of the parishes Cristancho ministered to in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. At the time of the abuse, Doe was 11, 12, and 13 years old. 

John Doe’s family befriended Cristancho, and the former priest would socialize with them outside of Mass, including at their home.

According to the release from the Department of Justice, “Beginning when John Doe was 11, Cristancho asked John Doe for back rubs; offered John Doe alcohol; took John Doe to dinner, kissed John Doe, told John Does that he loved him; and acted as if they were in a romantic relationship. Cristancho also showed John Doe pornography and suggested they do the same sexual activities.”

Further, after Cristancho was stripped of his faculties, he would celebrate Mass privately in someone’s home. John Doe would assist with those Masses as an altar server or lector. Cristancho joined John Doe’s family on a camping trip, where they shared a tent, and Cristancho eventually had John Doe move into his house on weekends to assist with various chores and childcare duties. 

Cristancho admitted in his plea agreement that he abused John Doe during these weekends. 

Despite years of documented sexual misconduct and misbehavior both in and out of ministry, Cristancho was able to avoid arrest until September 2017. 

That month, a retail pharmacy employee noticed “several photos of naked children,” including one that had what looked to be a bite mark, on Cristancho’s smartphone. Cristancho was attempting to print photographs from his phone. That employee went to the police.

On September 19, 2017, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Cristancho’s residence, and seized several electronic devices. Authorities discovered nude images and videos of four minors, most of whom were under the age of five at the time of the recordings. Cristancho was then charged with production and possession of child pornography. 

A bizarre priesthood

Before his arrest and conviction, Cristancho faced sexual misconduct allegations throughout the United States. 

Ordained a priest of the Diocese of Istmina-Tado, Colombia, in 1985, Cristancho moved to the United States in the early 1990s. From 1994 until 1997, Cristancho was a priest at a parish in the Diocese of Arlington. He was dismissed from that position after he was accused of sexual misconduct with an adult woman. Criminal charges were not filed. 

In 1999, Cristancho was granted faculties in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Those faculties were revoked in 2002, after he refused a parish assignment from then-Cardinal William Keeler. In the process of revoking his faculties, it was discovered that Cristancho was the biological father to a set of triplets conceived through in vitro fertilization. 

Cristancho reportedly told his platonic friend Dalia Fernandez that she had been “chosen by God” to bear his children. Fernandez is not the biological mother of the triplets, who were conceived with donated eggs. 

In 2008, Cristancho lost custody of his children to Fernandez after a court found that he had sexually abused the two male triplets. At the time, criminal charges were not filed against Cristancho for the abuse of his sons due to a lack of evidence. 

A Colombian priest of the same name was stripped of his faculties in the Diocese of Salt Lake City in May 1994 after an allegation of sharing a bed with minors. It is unclear if this is the same Fernando Cristancho.  

Although Cristancho was without faculties at the time of his arrest and sentencing, it is not presently known if he was ever laicized. A priest can only be removed from the clerical state at his own request or that of his diocesan bishop. 

The Diocese of Istmina-Tado did not respond to Aleteia’s request for clarification on the matter in time for publication. 

“Astonishing”

SNAP, the Survivor’s Network, said in a statement issued Wednesday that while they were grateful for the work done to remove Cristancho from society, they were critical of the lack of action taken in years past. 

“It is astonishing that a priest tossed out of a parish in Virginia in 1997 for sexual abuse ended up working in a parish in Maryland, yet we have seen this pattern from church officials far too many times,” said the statement. “Still more appalling is the fact that he was so poorly supervised after his firing from a church in Maryland in 2002 that he was able to continue holding masses.”

“We cannot help but wonder how many other lives were endangered by this priest who was so carelessly supervised by the church officials and who had been allowed to walk free among us for so long,” they said. 

“Given his history, we are glad to see this sentence. However, we will remain watchful for Cristancho’s parole hearing. Abusers never stop abusing and it is clear to us that Cristancho presents a threat to children.” 

SNAP added that they hope anyone else who may have been abused by Cristancho or anyone else in the Diocese of Baltimore is empowered to report their story and begin healing. 

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