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Claims of sexual abuse by former Southside priest results in calls to stay execution

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

A young Humberto Leal (left) with Sister Maria and his brother at St. Clare’s church.

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Leal’s first communion certificate, signed by Federico Fernandez

Current Bexar County DA Susan Reed, the state district judge overseeing the case at the time, refused to accept the agreement, saying she wouldn’t negotiate with child molesters. Charges were eventually dropped, sparking a war of words between Reed and the DA’s office, each accusing the other of botching the case.

“I feel very sorry for the children in this case, either way they go, but I’ll tell you what: You are not going to come sneaking deals or trying to pressure me into deals that are inappropriate, and particularly when you have the resources the district attorney has to handle this kind of situation,” Reed told the Associated Press at the time.

The prosecutor in the case felt otherwise, telling reporters, “She dismissed the case and ignored the cry of these children. … Once again, they have been victimized, not by priests, but by the judge.”

Fernandez left San Antonio later that year. Last week, Deacon Pat Rodgers, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said the church was looking into the most recent allegations and had forwarded Leal’s claims to the international order of Franciscan priests.

Sandra Babcock, Leal’s lawyer and a Northwestern University law professor, said the Franciscans had confirmed that Fernandez is still a priest at the Templo de San Francisco in Bogotá. When the Current called, a man who answered the phone at the church refused to give his name and insisted there was no Father Fernandez there. On a second phone call, however, a man who identified himself as Father Fernandez denied all allegations, claiming he never met Leal and had never lived in San Antonio.

A number of victims’ rights organizations have called on Texas Governor Rick Perry to stay Leal’s execution, saying his testimony could be essential in prosecuting Fernandez. “We now know [Fernandez] has done this same thing before,” said Barbara Garcia Boehland, director of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We believe he’s still out there doing this and we need Mr. Leal to help us put him away.” Boehland’s own son committed suicide four years after another local priest sexually abused him, she said.

Father William Spencer, head of the international order of Franciscan priests, wrote to state officials late last week saying that while he couldn’t confirm the allegations of abuse, “I also understand how the public record regarding Father Fernandez raises questions that warrant caution in imposing the severest penalty our Society can demand.”

But the Bexar County DA’s office hasn’t given much credence to Leal’s recent claims, saying the last-minute appeal seems suspect. Enrico Valdez, head of the DA’s appellate division, said, “[Leal] has had 16 years of post-trial litigation to bring this up, and obviously he waited until the last hour to bring this forward.”

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