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NorCal Priest Arrested In Child Molestation Case

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Fr. Uriel Ojeda

Fr. Uriel Ojeda (Sacramento Police Dept.)

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REDDING (CBS/AP) — A priest in the Sacramento Roman Catholic diocese has been arrested on accusations that he molested a child, Bishop Jaime Soto announced Thursday.

The Rev. Uriel Ojeda, 32, turned himself in on Wednesday after the diocese received a complaint from a parishioner’s family, Soto said. Ojeda is assigned as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mercy parish in Redding, Shasta County.

“I have personally spoken to the family involved, and they are in great pain. … What they have endured has been difficult, and I grieve for what they have suffered and are suffering,” Soto said. “Yet I also admire the courage with which they have come forward.”

Police spokeswoman Laura Peck said Ojeda was arrested at police headquarters on suspicion of multiple molestation counts. Charges have not yet been filed, said Shelly Orio, spokeswoman for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office.

It was not immediately clear whether the priest had an attorney.

Ojeda was one of the youngest priests in the diocese, and was hailed as a key link between the church and the Hispanic community in a 2007 profile in The Sacramento Bee. The newspaper reported that he tended to Latino Catholics at the hospital and in the farm fields, where he was recognized by his distinctive yellow truck with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the back window.

Then a vicar at Holy Rosary Parish in Woodland, Ojeda was known for being involved in the community and offering free guitar and drum lessons to parishioners. He played bass in a church band, wore Converse tennis shoes and likes Spider-Man comics, the Bee reported.

Soto said the family of the alleged victim approached the diocese on Tuesday and church officials immediately contacted Child Protective Services and Sacramento police. He said the diocese has offered to help the family.

The bishop said the diocese wants to encourage any other potential victims to come forward and that it will make announcements in parishes where Ojeda has served, including the church in Redding and in Woodland, where he served until he was transferred to Redding in 2009. Redding is about 160 miles north of Sacramento, and Woodland is about 20 miles northwest of the state capital.

“Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of Father Ojeda or other abuse needs to contact the diocese,” Soto said.

Ojeda was being held in the Sacramento County jail on charges of lewd or lascivious act with a child under 14 and lewd acts on a child under 14 in which the victim was at least 10 years younger than the perpetrator. Bail was set at $5 million, and Ojeda was scheduled to appear in court Friday, according to jail records.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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