WESTLAKE, Ohio (WJW) — City police arrested a 76-year-old Colombian man who claimed to be a retired Catholic priest, after he was accused of molestation while “blessing” a 15-year-old girl suffering from cancer.
A local priest reported the “disturbing incident” to city police just before 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20, according to a Tuesday news release from police Capt. Gerald Vogel.
The man, whom police identified as Luis Jesus Barajas, a Colombian national, has been staying with local families in Lorain County for months, “performing spiritual ceremonies to the nearby Spanish-speaking population,” reads the release.
On Friday, he was driven to Westlake to pray with a 15-year-old girl who had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, according to the release.
“According to witnesses, Mr. Barajas touched the juvenile inappropriately during the blessing,” Vogel wrote. “Mr. Barajas used blankets and clothing to hide some of his actions from witnesses but his touching made several uncomfortable. Witnesses said Barajas’ movements were ‘unconventional’ compared to past blessings they had seen.”
Police obtained a warrant and arrested Barajas at an Elyria home on Monday, Oct. 23, according to the release. Court records list Barajas as having an Elyria address.
Investigators believe Barajas was ordained in 1982, and that he was accused of sexual misconduct against juveniles in the Catholic diocese in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1989. He was then sent back to Colombia, according to investigators.
“Reports are that he was removed from the priesthood at some point but it is unclear when this happened,” Vogel wrote.
Barajas was previously arrested in 2019 in Virginia on a felony count of misconduct with a minor, according to the release.
“He had been ‘acting in the capacity of trusted family friend and as church clergy’ at that time as well,” Vogel wrote.
District court records in that case indicate the alleged offense happened in 2013, but authorities ultimately declined to prosecute.
Barajas is now charged with a felony count of gross sexual imposition in Rocky River Municipal Court. He was set for arraignment there on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
A judge there also issued a criminal protection order.