WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - A Catholic priest has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday after he was found guilty of sexually abusing two young girls at his Northwest DC parish.
Father Urbano Vazquez’s supporters broke down in tears as the sentenced was handed down Friday afternoon. Vazquez also received 15 years of supervised release following his prison sentence and will be required to register for the rest of his life as a sex offender.
Vazquez was found guilty on all counts in a nine-day long trial back in August after two girls testified that 46-year-old priest groped them and kissed them on the mouth when one was 9 years old and the other 13.
One of the girls said Vazquez cornered her in an office and groped her breast. The assaults took place inside the Shrine of the Sacred Heart church complex - including near the church confessionals, in the church basement, and in the church sacristy - in Northwest D.C. in 2015 and 2016.
Prosecutors told the jury Vazquez was brazen and got a thrill out of touching the girls while services were going on and used his position of trust to get close to the victims, but the priest, who is part of the Capuchin Franciscan order, took the stand in his own defense and said the assaults never happened and he was never alone with the girls.
“Urbano Vazquez used his trusted position as a clergy member to abuse innocent children,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu said in a written statement. “We will not tolerate abhorrent conduct against our children. Survivors of abuse need to know that they can come forward with information and we will seek justice on their behalf.”
Judge Juliet McKenna said a substantial sentence was necessary to protect against Vazquez’s “predatory and manipulative behavior” that had a “devastating impact on the victims.”
In a highly emotional hearing inside the courtroom, 215 supporters of Vazquez spoke fondly of the priest.
Telling McKenna the man before her in shackles and handcuffs was a gentle, generous soul and not the man prosecutors say groped and kissed young girls.
As speaker after speaker told the judge about the priests good deeds Father Vazquez sat quietly showing little emotion.
In a nine page letter, the priest wrote to McKenna he went through his life story detailing all that he had accomplished before ending with this line: "Your honor, as you can see, I was too busy to do a crazy thing. Thank You."
Vazquez declined to make a statement to the court. He maintains his innocence.
McKenna had the authority to throw the book at the priest but instead gave him a sentence that fell in the middle of the guidelines.
"What happened to him was a total injustice" said Laura Hernandez. "I have known him for the last five years. My daughter, she is 15 now, and she has been working with him and he never disrespected her, never, he is a very gentle person."
When the judge announced the sentence of 15 years many inside the packed courtroom began to sob.
"We could have gone on for four days with people telling stories about the good things that he has done and how he has affected people's life's in a positive way", said Defense Attorney Robert Bonsib. "Showing up at hospitals in the middle of the night helping the homeless. The people who were there are just fraction of the people he has affected in such a positive way".
It is common during sentencing hearings for victims to give impact statements but that did not happen today. Instead, the courtroom was filled mostly with supporters.