Puerto Rico priest arrested on child sex abuse charges

(Fotolia)

(Fotolia)

REUTERS

, Last Updated: 5:12 PM ET

SAN JUAN - U.S. authorities on Tuesday arrested a 58-year-old Catholic priest in Puerto Rico on child sexual abuse charges, marking the first such detention in the U.S. territory by federal officials.

Israel Berrios was taken into custody at a relative's home in the rural town of Naranjito, said Ivan Ortiz, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Berrios was arrested after a federal grand jury delivered four charges against him for sexual trafficking of minors and transportation of a minor with the intention of involving the minor in an illicit sexual act, Ortiz said.

Berrios faces a sentence from 10 years to life in prison. It was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.

Bishop Ruben Gonzalez, who heads the Caguas Diocese where Berrios worked, said he cooperated with authorities in the case after receiving the original complaint early last year.

"What was brought to my attention was an act of sexual abuse against a minor," Gonzalez said during a radio interview, adding that Berrios admitted wrongdoing when confronted by the complaint.

"I investigated the matter, suspended the priest from his functions and took him out of the parish where he worked."

The victim initially asked for confidentiality. Information on the case was sent to Catholic authorities in Rome, but it was not until this year that the report was handed over to local authorities after they requested it as part of a wide-ranging probe.

The incident took place while the priest worked in the mountain town of Aibonito in 2007 when the victim was 14, according to the El Nuevo Dia newspaper.

Puerto Rico's Justice Department is investigating more than a dozen priests across Puerto Rico on similar charges, officials said.


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