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MÁLAGA, Spain (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Spanish priest arrested for sedating, raping and filming five women was cleared to attend World Youth Day and participated in the Lisbon event with a contingent of young people representing the diocese of Málaga.
Police began investigating Fr. Francisco Javier Cuenca Villalba, the son of a former Poor Clare cloistered nun, after his live-in lover reported him to the Family and Women's Services Unit in Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city located on the eastern coast of Morocco.
The diocese of Málaga has refused to reveal the identity of the 34-year-old priest, who was ordained in 2017 and was living with his mother while reassigned to the parishes of El Burgo and La Yunquera when police arrested him on Sept. 11.
Diocesan officials said the priest was transferred from his parish in Melilla, where he was cohabiting with his concubine, to the two parishes in the mountains of Sierra de las Nieves because "he renounced his romantic relationship and committed himself to his priesthood."
The diocese maintained that they "were unaware of the existence of sexual videos" in which Fr. Villalba recorded his sexual assaults. However, the priest's lover insisted that she had delivered the recordings on a hard drive to diocesan authorities in January.
Last spring, Fr. Villalba's mistress found the hard drive in the house and discovered that it contained videos and photographs of her partner performing "all types of sexual practices" on a series of half-naked women who appeared to be asleep or under the effects of some sedative.
Suspecting that the acts might be nonconsensual, the priest's lover made a copy of the hard drive. When diocesan officials refused to act, the woman filed a complaint at the Melilla police station in July.
Police said that the victims all belonged to the priest's circle of close friends and were unaware that they had suffered a sexual crime due to the sedatives their friend had given them to render them completely unconscious.
"He took advantage of his status as a priest to carry out the acts," a spokesperson from the Spanish National Police said. In the videos and images, the priest is seen raping women who were unconscious, while filming and photographing his actions "for self-consumption."
Police said they were unable to identify the sedatives because of the time-lapse after the attacks. "We only know that the state of unconsciousness in which they were left was brutal because none of the victims had the slightest memory of what happened," they observed.
While investigators identified five women from the images, the police spokesperson said they had not ruled out more victims, since Fr. Villalba perpetrated his abuse during trips in 2017, 2018 and 2019, especially in Málaga, Madrid and Córdoba, where his friends live.
Investigations have revealed that the predator priest had rented an apartment in Vélez-Málaga, over 100 kilometers away from his currently assigned parishes of El Burgo and La Yunquera. The diocese alleged "health reasons" for the priest's alternative accommodation.
On Tuesday, a press release from the diocese announced that the bishop of Málaga, Jesús E. Catalá Ibáñez, has "withdrawn the ministerial license of the priest in preventive custody so that he does not exercise the priesthood."
In a press statement published on Monday, Bp. Ibáñez asked the faithful to "join in prayer for the end of the scourge of abuse against women" and reiterated the Church's "deepest and most forceful condemnation against any type of humiliation or abuse of women."
"Since the facts became known, this bishopric has collaborated with the requirements of justice and will continue to offer its cooperation for whatever steps are necessary in order to facilitate the investigation that clarifies the facts," the statement added.
The diocese swiftly deleted references to Fr. Villalba from its website and refused to confirm his identity in response to requests from Church Militant.
On Tuesday, the Spanish portal Vida Nueva reported that the priest had joined the Trinitarians at the age of 18 and had spent two years with the religious order in Granada, but the diocese failed to check why he had left the order.
Although the exact reason why Villalba left the Trinitarians is unknown to the public, it appears to be known to the diocese, which rejected the reports as false, insisting that Fr. Villalba had left the Trinitarians "freely and voluntarily."
The seminary of Málaga had "carried out the usual vocational discernment, without the problems which he is now accused of," the statement added.
In an earlier interview with La Opinion de Málaga, Villalba denounced clerical "pedophile scandals" as "a shame," adding that "it is important that the Church has made the decision to put them in the hands of justice."
"Here in Málaga, we have parish priests who have been an example," the predator boasted. "It is true that there are few vocations, but quality is more important than quantity."
The priest credited his vocation to his mother, saying, "Many times I say to her in a nice way: 'Mom, you are to blame.'"
In 2016, the diocesan seminary of Málaga put Villalba in charge of its vocations campaign, asking young men pursuing a vocation to contact the predator.
After his ordination, Fr. Villalba was assigned as parish vicar of Álora and parish priest of Ardales and Carratraca.