Hamilton priest suspended over allegations he had sexual relationship with a minor in Portugal

“He had obviously seen the article as well,” Kroetsch said. “We told him because of the nature of the allegations, he would be suspended immediately from priestly ministry in this diocese.”

“The way we left it is you go home to Portugal and sort this out,” Kroetsch added. “If these allegations are false and your name is cleared and you’re vindicated, we’ll have to see what happens at that point.

“We made no promises or commitments because we don’t know the facts.”

Kroetsch said the diocese was aware prior to Antunes’ arrival in Hamilton that he had fathered a child with an adult, but the diocese had no knowledge of allegations he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor.

“When he came here, there was no mention of any involvement with a minor of any kind,” said Kroetsch. “These allegations have been made just recently and at least as far as we know, there’s nothing else.”

Having a child is not something that requires a priest to be removed from the priesthood, Kroetsch noted.

“It’s a moral fault for sure,” he said. “It’s a sin, it’s forgivable. It’s not a crime.”

Last weekend, Kroetsch attended masses at St. Mary’s and read a statement to parishioners informing them Antunes had been removed as pastor “following recent allegations of sexual abuse of a minor many years ago in Portugal.”

“Because the church takes such allegations seriously,” according to the statement, “both the bishop of his home diocese of Vila Real and Bishop (Douglas) Crosby have suspended Father Heitor from all priestly ministry pending the results of the investigation into the claims that are being made against Father.”

.St. Mary’s Church in Hamilton is looking for a new priest to lead Portugese service after Father Heitor Antunes was suspended over allegations from his native Portugal. | Barry Gray , The Hamilton Spectator

In 1999, Father Heitor Antunes arrived in the small town of Nogueira, about 70 kilometres east of Porto, where he served as priest to the parishes of Andraes, Nogueira, Alvacoes do Corgo and Vilarinho dos Freires — small communities south of the city of Vila Real.

In 2002, according to the Observer’s report, Antunes began sending text messages to a 12-year-old girl in Nogueira. To protect her privacy, she was given the pseudonym Mariana in the article.

One of Mariana’s family members had just died and Antunes texted to say she looked sad that day.

Antunes and Mariana eventually exchanged thousands of messages, according to the report, and within months they would meet for walks in isolated places.

The report alleges the pair began a physical relationship when she was 14 years old that grew in intensity. Antunes was 34 at the time.

Mariana’s grades began to falter and her parents took her to a psychiatrist, the report notes, and finally she asked to be sent to a boarding school.

Mariana eventually went to college and had a boyfriend but the relationship ended badly, according to the Observer. Antunes had continued to stay in contact with her and, by the end of 2013, their relationship resumed, it’s alleged.

The Observer alleges Antunes rented a house for Mariana to make it easier for him to see her. When she was 23, Mariana became pregnant and the child was born in 2014.

According to the report, Antunes did not want his name to appear in the civil registry as the baby’s father. It’s alleged Antunes wanted Mariana to consider going abroad to have the baby or to use another man’s name as the father.

Mariana refused, the report states, and Antunes’ name allegedly appears as the baby’s father in the registry.

The Observer alleges Mariana ended her relationship with Antunes not long after the baby was born, when she discovered he was having an affair with another woman.

According to the Observer, it was well-known in the Nogueira area that Antunes had fathered a child with Mariana. Most of the people, the report notes, blamed Mariana for the situation because Antunes was seen “almost like a king” who had done a lot for the parish.

The Observer also alleges Antunes faced accusations he had fathered another child with a different woman, who may have been a minor at the time, but the allegation was never proven.

In the fall of 2015, an investigation of Antunes was conducted by Portugal’s Judicial Police based on an anonymous complaint, according to the Observer.

When interviewed by the police inspector, it’s alleged, Antunes said he had never engaged in any sexual misconduct with a minor. He also stated he was leaving the Vila Real diocese by mutual agreement with the bishop “because of a personal situation.”

According to the Observer, it appears no criminal charges were filed against Antunes in Portugal.

Under Portuguese law, charges of sexual misconduct involving a minor have to be filed no later than six months after the victim turns 18. Mariana’s allegations only came to light when she was 24.

The Observer report was based on interviews with a number of sources, along with access to documents held by Portugal’s national police agency, the public prosecutor, court records and birth registry.

The Observer also published excerpts of messages exchanged between its reporters and Antunes in which the priest acknowledged he had fathered a child with the woman, but denied accusations of sexual abuse.

“I refute the accusations of sexual abuse,” according to a translation of one of Antunes’ messages to the Observer. “I abhor any kind of abuse on others. In relation to children, I had a daughter with a woman of 24.”

A year after the child was born, according to the report, Antunes left Portugal and settled in Hamilton.

.Father Heitor Antunes, the priest at St. Mary’s church in Hamilton, has been suspended by the Catholic church after reports in an online publication in Portugal that he had a child with a parishioner while the head of a congregation in that country. The relationship allegedly began when she was 14 years old.

How and why Father Heitor Antunes ended up at St. Mary’s church is less clear than the explosive allegations he’s facing.

According to the Observer, Vila Real Bishop Amandio Tomas told police he was aware in March 2015 that Antunes had fathered a child.

The bishop allegedly told Antunes he should either resign his duties as a priest and assume his responsibilities as a father, or he should move to another parish.

The bishop also told the Judicial Police he was not aware at the time of any allegations that Antunes had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor. Had he been aware of that, the bishop said, he would have reported the information to the Vatican and Portugal’s Public Prosecution Service.

In Portugal, there’s an office that deals with priests who are sent abroad to minister to Portuguese emigrants. A spokesperson for the office told the Observer it was not familiar with Antunes and wasn’t aware of his placement in Canada.

Within three days of the Observer’s Feb. 28 report, the Vila Real bishop decided to suspend Antunes from duty and request his return to Portugal. According to the Observer, a Catholic church-based canonical investigation has been launched into the allegations raised by Mariana in the article.

Kroetsch, Hamilton diocese spokesperson, said he can’t recall the specifics of how Antunes ended up in the diocese. Around that time, the diocese was in need of a priest who spoke Portuguese.

“At some point, we received a letter from his bishop indicating he was willing to let him come to our diocese to serve the Portuguese community here,” said Kroetsch.

Kroetsch said he was very surprised when he learned of the allegations.

“He’s been a good pastor and a well-loved pastor,” said Kroetsch. “He’s brought a lot of new energy to the parish.

“He’s always very friendly, congenial. I’ve had no reason to suspect anything.”

Kroetsch said the diocese has received no complaints about inappropriate behaviour involving Antunes since he’s been in Hamilton.

“There haven’t been any allegations of any boundary issues or abuse or anything,” said Kroetsch. “No hint of anything we’d be concerned about.”

The diocese is now looking for a replacement to conduct Portuguese masses at St. Mary’s.

sbuist@thespec.com

905-526-3226

sbuist@thespec.com

905-526-3226