Conviction of DC predator priest leaves victim advocate hopeful

The conviction of a D.C. priest on charges of child sex abuse left a local advocate impressed by the victims and hopeful for the future.

Becky Ianni, who leads a local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that she was particularly struck by the fact that young children had the courage to face a courtroom full of people and talk about what happened to them.

One of those children is a 12-year-old girl, who said Urbano Vazquez abused her when she was 9.

“I was also abused at the age of 9, and I didn’t tell anyone until the age of 48,” Ianni said. “The fact that she told someone and was willing to testify kind of blew me away.”

A jury convicted Vazquez on Thursday of inappropriately touching two children — the 9-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl — at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Northwest D.C. between 2015 and 2017, when he was an assistant pastor at the parish.

Both victims took the stand and answered questions during the trial.

“The average victim doesn’t come forward for decades,” Ianni said. “That gave me a lot of encouragement and a lot of hope that maybe things are changing, and maybe victims are knowing that if they come forward, they will be believed.”

Vazquez is scheduled to be sentenced in late November.

“I hope it’s a very harsh sentence,” said Ianni. “Not only is that what he deserves for what he’s done, but that’s going to be a deterrent to anybody else out there who is going to be thinking about harming a child.”

In addition to the child sex abuse charges, Vazquez also faces misdemeanor sex abuse charges over an accusation of groping a woman during confession. That part of his case is being handled separately from the charges involving the children.

Prosecutors urge other clergy abuse victims in the area to step forward by calling the U.S. Attorney’s clergy abuse reporting line at 202-252-7008.

“It’s really important that anyone who was abused in D.C. call that line,” Ianni said. “It’s a safe place to call.”

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