SAO PAULO, Brazil – Three clergymen in the Diocese of Penedo, Brazil, have been suspended from the priesthood while authorities continue investigating claims of sexual abuse against them from altar servers.
The suspensions in Arapiraca in the northern state of Alagoas followed the broadcast of a videotape in mid-March by a Brazilian television network showing what appeared to be retired monsignors engaged in sex with a 19-year-old man.
Bishop Valerio Breda of Penedo said in a statement that in light of the “grave and lamentable facts made public on television” he suspended Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa, 82.
Monsignor Raimundo Gomes, 52, and Father Edilson Duarte, 43 also were suspended, the bishop said, when other altar servers stepped forward with claims of abuse.
Bishop Breda said the church was cooperating with police and that the church also would conduct its own investigation.
“We reproach, without restriction and with hearts broken by shame and sadness, the facts in the report, which, despite their not having been proven, have outraged human and Christian conscience,” Bishop Breda’s statement said.
The network, SBT TV, said the video was shot in January 2009 inside the monsignor’s residence by another victim.
When questioned by police, the young man reported that he had been forced to engage in sexual acts with the monsignor since he was 12.
Local newspapers reported that other victims stepped forward with allegations that the clerics forced them into the sexual relationships.
Monsignor Barbosa retired in September 2009 after 58 years in ministry. After his retirement he remained a involved in church life in Arapiraca, continuing to preside at weddings and celebrating Mass, according to parishioners.
In an interview with SBT, Monsignor Barbosa did not respond to questions about the allegations that he abused altar servers.
Daniel Fernandes, Monsignor Barbosa’s attorney, denied the abuse accusations to reporters. He said the sexual relations between the clergyman and the young men were consensual.
The lawyer also said the accusers signed an agreement in June stating they would not release the video or any information related to the case in exchange for about $17,500.
The Vatican’s spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, said in mid-March church authorities were aware of the allegations and the continuing police investigation.
Catholic News Service attempted to speak with the priests involved, but the Arapiraca parish said the men were unavailable.