For immediate release: Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008
Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell)
Yet again, we see a recent case of horrific child sexual abuse by a Catholic priest who obviously was inadequately supervised and who sadly still walks free today.
We beg anyone with information about possible crimes by Fr. Christancho to do what's right and contact law enforcement immediately.
Each person who saw, suspected or suffered Fr. Cristancho's misdeeds has a moral and civic duty to come forward, call police, get help and warn others about him.
We hope others who've been hurt by this predator will find the strength and courage to come forward, get help, and take legal action so that others are protected.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 17 years and have more than 8,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259) Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688)
Priest loses custody dispute to woman who bore triplets with donor eggs
CARYN TAMBER - Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer - October 27, 2008 6:54 PM
The state’s second-highest court has upheld a judge’s decision to give custody of 6-year-old triplets to the woman who gave birth to them using another woman’s eggs and the sperm of a Catholic priest.
Dalia Fernandez deserves custody because the priest, Fernando Cristancho, was found to have sexually abused two of the triplets, the Court of Special Appeals held.
Margaret Attanasio, the Harford County lawyer who argued the case for Fernandez on appeal, said she expected the court to decide the case in favor of her client.
“It’s not a surprise,” she said. “They had to affirm it.”
The county trial judge had found that Fernandez, a platonic friend of the priest who had lived with his mother, was the triplets’ de facto parent — that is, a non-parent who acts in a parental role.
However, while Cristancho’s appeal was pending, the state’s highest court struck down the de facto parent doctrine in another case. It held that third parties must show exceptional circumstances to overcome a parent’s right to determine custody or visitation.
But that did not mean the decision should be reversed, the intermediate appellate court said.
“[E]ven though it relied upon a subsequently overruled case, the trial court applied the correct test in making its decision,” Judge Deborah S. Eyler wrote for the three-judge panel. “Therefore, any error in finding that Dalia was a de facto parent of the triplets was harmless, as Fernando [Cristancho] himself concedes in his brief.”
Cristancho’s lawyer, Laura Bearsch, did not immediately return a call for comment Monday afternoon.
Two boys and a girl
According to Monday’s unreported opinion, Cristancho and Fernandez met through Cristancho’s sister, who worked with Fernandez.
Cristancho, as a priest, had taken a vow of celibacy, but he wanted children. He convinced Fernandez to bear his children, who would be conceived through in vitro fertilization of an anonymous donor’s eggs with Cristancho’s sperm.
Fernandez was 50 years old at the time; Cristancho was in his 40s. They were close friends but did not have a romantic or sexual relationship, according to the opinion.
They traveled to Colombia, Cristancho’s native country, in 2001 to undergo the in vitro process. Afterward, Fernandez moved in with Cristancho’s mother and, when he was not staying at the church, Cristancho himself. Various other relatives of Cristancho and Fernandez lived there too, at times.
Fernandez gave birth to the triplets, two boys and a girl, that November. Cristancho, at the time an assistant priest at St. Ignatius Church in Forest Hill, did not tell anyone at his church about the children. When church officials found out, they fired him, according to the appellate opinion.
Fernandez and Cristancho’s relationship started to deteriorate, with allegations of domestic violence and a fight over custody. In 2005, Fernandez found out from one of the boys that Cristancho was sexually abusing him, the opinion says.
She testified that she contacted the children’s doctor to find out what to do, but he told her “nothing could be done until the children were six years old,” according to the opinion.
In 2006, a friend of Fernandez who was babysitting the children heard a similar story from the boy. The friend told her pastor, who contacted the police and notified an official with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The Department of Social Services was notified and investigated. The agency determined that child sexual abuse of the two boys was “indicated,” its highest-level finding, but ruled out abuse of their sister.
In 2007, after a custody trial, Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. found that Cristancho had abused the boys, and did not find that Cristancho was unlikely to abuse them again. In addition to finding that Fernandez was a de facto parent, he found that she had proven Cristancho unfit and, therefore, that she only had to show that giving her custody would be in the children’s best interest.
On appeal, Cristancho argued that Plitt had erred in finding that he had abused the boys, but the Court of Special Appeals rejected his argument as “an attempt to reargue the facts of the case.”
J. Richard Moore III, who is now a domestic master in Harford County but represented Fernandez at trial, said he was not concerned about the fate of the case when he heard the Court of Appeals struck down de facto parenthood.
“I wasn’t, only because of the way that Judge Plitt fashioned his decision,” Moore said. “It hedges against that whole issue, the de facto parent.”
The unreported opinion is available as RecordFax 8-1027-06 (18 pages).
Priest loses custody of triplets fathered by donating sperm - accused of abusing those children
By Carolyn Peirce - Examiner Staff Writer 10/30/08
A Catholic priest found to have sexually abused two of his 6-year-old triplets lost custody this week to the woman who gave birth to the children using his donated sperm and another woman’s eggs.
The state’s second-highest court held Monday that Fernando Cristancho, 52, of Bel Air, is unfit to parent the triplets, two boys and a girl, and granted custody to Dalia Fernandez, 57, the woman who gave birth to them using in vitro fertilization.
The decision affirmed the ruling of Harford Circuit Judge Emory Plitt Jr., who said Fernandez deserved the children because she was a de facto parent acting as their mother even though she was unrelated.
Plitt’s decision had been called into question when the state’s highest court ruled against the de facto parent doctrine in another case during Cristancho’s appeal, saying only extreme circumstances overrule a parent’s right to custody.
“One of the constitutionally protected rights is for a parent to have say with regard to [the custody of] their children and to overcome that, you have to show some sort of unfitness by the parent,” said J. Richard Moore III, Fernandez’s trial attorney who is now a master in Harford. Masters make recommendations in family and juvenile cases that are sent to judges who make the final decision.
Moore said the intermediate appellate court upheld Plitt’s ruling because the sexual abuse was proof enough that Cristancho was unfit, even if the de facto parent doctrine was tossed.
“Plitt took into account that the court might rule in that fashion,” Moore said. “So, he also found that Cristancho was unfit ... and basically made the opinion bulletproof.”
Cristancho’s’ attorney Laura Bearsch said the appeal was based on discrepancies in what the boys reported and a Department of Social Services investigation that was “really, really full of errors.”
Bearsch said the boys were never interviewed alone, and authorities were “picking and choosing” what to believe. Cristancho never was criminally charged with sex abuse, she said.
According to Monday’s opinion, Cristancho asked his Platonic friend Fernandez to travel with him to Colombia in 2001 and undergo the in vitro process, because he had taken a vow of celibacy.
Church officials learned of the children’s birth in November and fired Cristancho from his position as assistant priest at St. Ignatius Church in Forest Hill. His relationship with Fernandez soon dwindled.
According to the opinion, one of the boys disclosed the sexual abuse in 2005, but the family’s doctor told Fernandez that police wouldn’t believe the boy because of his age.
When the boy told the same story in 2006 to a baby sitter, police were notified along with the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Department of Social Services.
Cristancho also was accused in 1997 of sexual misconduct with a young woman who wasn’t a minor, for which he was fired from the Parish Council at Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria, Va., according to the opinion.