A former Catholic priest who served in Laurens and Newberry counties pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to Transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
According to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia, Jamie Adolfo Gonzalez-Farias, 68, who was known to parishioners as “Father Gonzalez,” admitted to transporting the victim from South Carolina to Florida with the intent to “commit lewd and lascivious exhibition and lewd and lascivious molestation in violation of Florida state law.
Gonzalez-Farias was arrested at the Miami International Airport by the FBI and U.S. Marshal’s Service in January and initially entered a plea of not-guilty.
U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis accepted the guilty plea Friday and will sentence Gonzalez-Farias after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. Transportation of a Minor with Intent to Engage in Criminal Sexual Activity carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison, plus fines and restitution. The statute also requires the defendant to register as a sex offender.
The initial indictment from a federal grand jury alleged that Gonzalez-Farias touched the victim, an 11-year-old boy, inappropriately.
According to an article from the Catholic News Agency, Gonzalez-Farias was assigned to the area in July 2020 as the administrator of St. Mark Church in Newberry, Holy Spirit Mission in Laurens and St. Boniface Mission in Joanna. It also said he woud be chaplain to Tyger River Correctional Institution and Presbyterian College.
The release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Gonzalez-Farias began giving gifts and “increasing amounts of attention towards the minor victim.” In November, the victim’s family reported their concern over the relationship between the priest and the minor to Catholic authorities, who suspended Gonzalez-Farias and made a report to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office.
The FBI conducted a forensic interview during which the victim disclosed that in November 2020, when the minor victim was 11 years-old about the incidents and trip to Florida. The FBI corroborated details of that interview by recovering text messages and WhatsApp messages sent by the priest to the victim.
When the FBI and the United States Marshals Service arrested Gonzales-Farias, he admitted that he showered with the victim, that he touched the minor victim’s genitals, and that he showed the minor victim pornography.
In a statement provided to The State newspaper, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston said it first became aware of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor involving Gonzalez-Farias in December of 2020 after he had left the country for his home in Chile. The diocese said it notified his parishioners about the abuse allegation in January of 2021
Gonzalez-Farias was ordained as a priest in September 1990. On April 20, 2015, he was transferred to South Carolina as a visiting priest. While in South Carolina, Gonzalez-Farias served in “various parishes and ministries,” according to the indictment. The diocese said his record did not raise any red flags before he was transferred.
“At that time, diocesan officials received a clear background check on him. (Gonzalez-Farias) then completed the Diocese’s Safe Environment training. In accordance with diocesan policy, he was rescreened in July 2020; no criminal activity was noted on that report,” the diocese said in its statement.
In August 2021, Gonzalez-Farias was included on the diocese’s list of “Visiting Priests with Credible Allegations of Child Sexual Misconduct or Abuse within the Diocese of Charleston,” The State reported. At the time, the diocese said it believed he had returned to Chile.
The FBI is seeking the public’s help in identifying potential victims. If anyone is of the belief that they or their minor dependents were victimized by Gonzalez-Farias or if anyone has relevant information about the former priest the FBI should know about, please contact the FBI at 803-551-4200.