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MOBILE, Ala. (ChurchMilitant.com) - An adult victim of sexual assault by a priest in Mobile, Alabama has been left with no support after reporting it to the archdiocese.
"There was really no response from the archdiocese at all," Mark [name changed to protect his identity] said. "I don't know whether they believed me."
Parishioners of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Phenix City, Alabama were never told why Fr. José Paillacho left the parish briefly in December 2017 and permanently in January 2018.
Sharing his story with Church Militant on condition of anonymity, Mark explained how the assault has shattered his trust in the clergy and the hierarchy.
"It happened so quickly," he said. "I didn't know what to do."
The assault happened in November 2017 after a surprise party celebrating Fr. Paillacho's ordination anniversary. After helping clean up, he said, "[Fr. Paillacho] asked me to stay and talk with him for a minute."
"He sat real close and the next thing I know is his arm is around me and he's nuzzling my neck and running his hands up and down," Mark said. "I stood up and said, 'What are you doing?'" Father Paillacho followed him, apologizing and grabbed him by the back of the neck as if to kiss him.
"I said, 'No!' and quickly left," Mark explained. He said he felt befuddled and horrified, thinking "a priest shouldn't be doing that."
"It happened so quickly and so forcefully, that this man attempted to fondle me," he said.
In hindsight, Mark said he occasionally "got the creeps" from Fr. Paillacho. But he believed his odd behaviors were a result of cultural differences and his difficult childhood — Fr. Paillacho is originally from Ecuador.
He said Fr. Paillacho used to tell sad stories about his life in Ecuador, and Mark said, "I felt sorry for the guy," adding, "I don't know what's true or not, it may have been his modus operandi."
About a week after the incident, Mark reported the assault to the archdiocese and based on the conversation, they thought they would be making the police report.
"It was a little embarrassing and we thought they were handling it," he said.
Mark also contacted a lawyer, not to obtain a settlement, but to prevent anyone else from being hurt. He was told he had no legal recourse to ensure that there would be no other victims.
"I couldn't go to Mass," he said. "I kept thinking that this man, ordained a priest, consecrating the Host is a homosexual who tried to seduce me."
Looking for help and understanding, Mark and his wife found a priest in the nearby diocese of Savanah, Georgia who they could talk to. This priest was outraged and went to his bishop, Bp. Gregory Hartmayer, who called the archbishop of Mobile, Alabama, Abp. Thomas Rodi.
It was after this call that Abp. Rodi ordered Fr. Paillacho to go to counseling.
Church Militant spoke with other sources close to the parish who said Fr. Paillacho told parishioners that Abp. Rodi had found out that he had never taken a retreat and ordered him to take one. Father Paillacho left the parish in mid-December.
When Mark learned that Fr. Paillacho returned to the parish in January, he sent a letter to Abp. Rodi begging him to have mercy on him and remove Fr. Paillacho from the parish.
In that letter obtained by Church Militant, he said he was concerned and anxious about the possibility of Fr. Paillacho's return.
"I became fraught with nerves that I may see him knowing he has sexual thoughts about me and indeed would like to be more than a friend," he said. "I felt much better knowing that he was gone and I could return to doing the ministries I so much feel called by Jesus to do."
Mark explained that he's always held priests to a higher standard because they're shepherds.
"When they receive Holy Orders, then they are judged more so by God," he explained.
He said Fr. Paillacho was apologetic, but he didn't know if it was from the heart or if he just didn't want to be caught. He wants Abp. Thomas Rodi to be forthright with Catholics in the diocese.
Mark also wanted to know if this was the first time that Fr. Paillacho attempted something or if this was a pattern of behavior that would indicate he should be removed from the priesthood.
Father Paillacho is currently working at St. Columba parish in Dothan, Alabama.
Church Militant reached out to Abp. Rodi but requests for comment went unanswered.