A local Catholic priest has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday after he was found guilty of child sex abuse charges this summer.
Urbano Vazquez, 47, was a priest at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Church in Northwest D.C.
He was found guilty in August on one count of second-degree child sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl, and two counts of second-degree child sexual abuse and one count of misdemeanor sexual abuse of a child against a 9-year-old girl. Both the girls were from his parish, and the crimes happened between 2015 and 2017, while he was an assistant pastor at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart.
Vazquez groped the 13-year-old and kissed and groped the 9-year-old.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Juliet McKenna noted the “devastating impact” the case has had on the victims.
Prosecutors had asked for just over 20 years for Vazquez. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Williams told the judge Vazquez was “dangerously manipulative” and “brazen.”
“He seemed to be aroused” by committing his crimes with others nearby, Williams said. Vazquez groped the older victim while speaking with her in a parish office, and he kissed and groped the younger victim in various places on church grounds, according to prosecutors.
Williams added that Vazquez’s affability was his most effective weapon, and that he was a “wolf in priest’s clothing.” While the Catholic Church can and does do good in the community, Williams said, “The defendant warped that for evil.”
The judge also considered impact statements from the victims, who chose not to attend the sentencing because of what Williams said was a fear of ridicule by Vazquez’s supporters. In all, seven supporters addressed the court – four through an interpreter. They described Vazquez as a dedicated, selfless and caring priest.
Vazquez has maintained his innocence, and on Tuesday he wrote a letter to the judge saying he “was too busy to do a crazy thing.” It made no mention of his victims, or the crimes he was convicted of committing.
Vazquez was arrested last year; in September, he argued for a retrial, saying the judge had improperly denied a request to try him separately for each victim, and that prosecutors used evidence of other alleged acts for which he wasn’t charged. His motion was denied last month.
He had faced a possible maximum of more than 45 years in prison.
A woman also testified during the trial that Vazquez kissed her when she was a teenager. He still faces charges in that case.
In a statement Friday, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said “This has been a difficult and painful time for the victim-survivors, their families, members of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish community and all of us in the Archdiocese of Washington.”
He added, “I take seriously our responsibility to protect the children and vulnerable adults entrusted to our care and remain dedicated to doing all I can to foster healing with my ongoing commitment to ensuring attentiveness and accountability in our local Church.”
Gregory also said anyone who is aware of improper conduct by anyone in the ministry should call the police and the archdiocese’s Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment at 301-853-5302.
WTOP’s John Aaron reported from D.C. WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Stay with WTOP for more details.