A Catholic priest charged with sexually assaulting two children from his Northwest Washington parish took the witness stand in court this week and repeatedly denied ever touching the girls.
Over two days of testimony, the Rev. Urbano Vazquez calmly told jurors that he was never alone with any children from the church and that he never inappropriately touched or kissed any children.
Vazquez, 47, was arrested last year and charged with four felony counts of second-degree child sexual abuse and one misdemeanor count of child sexual abuse. He is accused of groping a 13-year-old girl in 2015 and kissing and groping a 9-year-old girl at the church in 2016. Prosecutors say the incidents happened when Vazquez was serving as an assistant pastor at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Columbia Heights, where the girls were parishioners.
Last week, the younger girl, now 12, testified in D.C. Superior Court that the man in whom she entrusted her faith had betrayed her by assaulting her three years ago.
The girl told jurors that Vazquez groped her repeatedly when the two of them were alone in the back of the church, and she said she was afraid to tell anyone because she feared he would “rape” her. The older girl told authorities that Vazquez assaulted her during confession.
On Monday, Vazquez took the stand and repeatedly denied that any of the incidents happened. He described his duties at the church and various missionary trips to El Salvador.
During questioning by one of his attorneys, Robert C. Bonsib, Vazquez said he was never alone with any of the alleged victims and never close enough to touch them.
“Did you ever grope anyone?” Bonsib asked. “Never,” Vazquez responded.
“Did you ever step out of confessional to assault” the alleged victim? Bonsib asked. Again Vazquez responded, “Never.”
“Did you ever touch [the alleged victim] in an inappropriate manner?” Bonsib asked. “Never,” Vazquez said.
On Tuesday, during his second day of testimony, Vazquez was cross-examined by prosecutors. Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Matt Williams did not immediately address the allegations, instead opening with questions addressing Vazquez’s credibility.
Williams ultimately got Vazquez to admit that he had lied to two supervising priests to gain their approval for some time off while secretly planning a trip with a female friend to a resort in Mexico.
Shortly after the Easter holiday season last year, Vazquez asked the supervising priests whether he could take a vacation, he testified.
Vazquez admitted that he had offered various explanations, telling his supervisors that he had planned to go to Puerto Rico and then changing that ruse, telling them instead he was going to Florida to visit a friend whose wife was dying.
The entire time, Vazquez testified, he was planning a trip to Cancun with a woman whom he earlier described as his “best friend.” Williams got Vazquez to admit that he had gone to great lengths to prevent his supervisors from finding out about the actual destination, including by having the female friend purchase the tickets and reimbursing her in cash.
Vazquez also testified that he changed his fabricated destination from Puerto Rico to Florida because he believed his supervisors would give him more time off if they thought he was helping a friend in need.
On returning from Cancun, Vazquez testified, he lied again, telling the supervising priests that male friends had accompanied him to Florida.
After Vazquez’s testimony about the vacation, Williams turned to details of the alleged sexual assaults.
As he did repeatedly with his own attorney, Vazquez denied any assaults. But he did recall telling his supervisors, who had questioned him about one alleged incident, that he could not have assaulted one of the girls because a boy was sleeping in the same room in the church at the time. “Yeah, I remember saying that,” Vazquez said.
Since his arrest last year, Vazquez has been housed in the D.C. jail. His appearance has changed dramatically, with a noticeable loss of weight. Judge Juliet McKenna’s courtroom has been full of dozens of Vazquez’s former parishioners offering their support for him.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday. Jurors could begin deliberations as early as Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.