Most Reverend Armando X. Ochoa, Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, on August 8 spoke at the sentencing hearing for Rev Ignacio Villafan. Fr. Villafan was senteced to five years probation.
To The Most Honorable Judge Gary Peden
I want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to personally address the Court in the wake of the conviction of Rev. Ignacio Villafan, a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. The impact of the crime committed is multifaceted. The breach of fiduciary responsibility of a pastor is more than just a monetary matter, it also carries with it a betrayal of a faith-based component where parishioners offer their financial support as a spiritual sacrifice intended to support the missionary activity of the church. Therefore, this criminality is twofold, legal and relational.
I feel that it is most important that Fr. Villafan accepts responsibility for his actions and the scandal that it has created. Once trust is broken, it is very difficult for it to be restored, yet not impossible. The first step must be acknowledgement of responsibility with an expressed commitment to make restitution that is consistently put into action. In light of the extenuating circumstances of this case, I agree with the Court that the family of Fr. Villafan needs to accept some measure of responsibility as well, since the evidence of this case has shown they were at least ancillary beneficiaries.
Another dimension of this issue involves Fr. Villafan’s responsibility to his fellow priests of the Diocese. My expectation is that he also acknowledges his wrongdoing to the clergy and not assume a “victim’s identity” as if he was somehow abandoned to circumstances beyond his control. Rather, I expect him to become a strong advocate for pastoral accountability in regards to the responsibilities that come with good stewardship in conformity with the law and our diocesan policies and procedures.
Fr. Villafan’s current status is the same as the day he was arrested on December 31, 2014. He is on paid administrative leave from all priestly duties pending the outcome of these proceedings. For a priest, being out of ministry for this extended period of time, along with the personal social impact it entails, has no doubt been very debilitating and may be considered sufficient.
However, in regards to sentencing, I respectfully request that Your Honor consider the steps of restorative justice in lieu of incarceration so that the faith community can heal, while Rev. Villafan works diligently to pay restitution with diocesan oversight – a requirement that will likely take him many, many years to accomplish. In addition, return to active ministry under direct supervision with no access to funds would also benefit those who are in need of pastoral care in a diocese that is experiencing a scarcity in the number of its clergy.
Again, I thank you for this opportunity to address the Court and your consideration of this request.
A note on the Catholic understanding of restorative justice. In the words of the Catholic Bishops of California:
Restorative justice is a response to crime and violence that shifts the focus from punishment to “responsibility, rehabilitation and restoration.” It holds offenders accountable even as it opens paths to healing, especially with victims. And it addresses the needs of everyone impacted by crime: victims, offenders, families, communities, and those working in the criminal justice system.
The practices of restorative justice are centuries old. They were present in the days of the early church and reflect the most basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching.
Crime violates persons and relationships, creating obligations to meet the needs of those harmed. It is a recongntion that punishing an offender is simply not enough. The needs of everyone affected must be addressed.