Priest Charged in Sex Abuse of Boys in Oxnard

Times Staff Writers

A Catholic priest who used to be in charge of the altar-boy program at an Oxnard church was charged Thursday with 25 counts of child molestation by the Ventura County district attorney’s office.

After an investigation that took nearly a year, prosecutors are seeking an arrest warrant for Father Fidencio Silva, 53, who served at Our Lady of Guadalupe church from 1978 to 1986. They will start extradition proceedings when they locate Silva, who as recently as 2002 was serving at a church in Mexico.

The criminal charges follow a lawsuit filed by eight men, including two corporate executives, an attorney and two police officers. They were altar boys, 11 to 15 years old at the time, who helped Silva at services, according to a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

The criminal charges came as the clock was ticking on a state-imposed one-year limit between police learning of possible molestations and prosecutors filing charges. They also came with Easter just around the corner -- a season of renewal especially meaningful this year for Manuel Vega, 36, an Oxnard police officer who is one of Silva’s accusers.


“What this does, not only for myself but other victims of Father Silva, is validate us as victims,” said Vega, who this week urged a state Assembly committee to freeze the statute of limitations in child sex-abuse cases.

“For so many years, we all lived with these horrific incidents in silence and shame,” Vega said. “Now, we are one step closer to getting to the truth.”

For nearly 20 years, Vega pushed memories of the abuse into his subconscious, he said. In fact, he met with the priest in 1991 to ask whether he would consider performing a marriage ceremony for him and his fiancee. But Vega said he felt strangely anxious in the meeting and backed away from the idea.

It wasn’t until he left the Marines the next year and entered the police academy that recollections of the alleged acts began to emerge.

Privately grappling with his experiences, Vega tracked down other former altar boys who also claimed to have been molested by Silva at the church, in the rectory and on outings. The group hired attorneys to file suit against Silva, his order and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

They also urged local prosecutors to take up the case.

On Thursday, Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Patricia Murphy said the felony complaint caps a painstaking investigation into suspected sex abuse by Silva and at least two other former Ventura County priests.

With the alleged crimes occurring so long ago, prosecutors have struggled to obtain evidence. They recently used a grand jury to subpoena witnesses and last month urged a judge to force the church to turn over documents. Joe Deems, an attorney for Silva’s order, Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, could not be reached for comment. He told The Times last May that the order investigated Silva after a 1995 complaint and concluded he had not committed a crime.


Silva received counseling during a leave of absence, before taking his post in San Luis Potosi, a mountainous state in central Mexico, Deems said.

In an interview last year with a television reporter, Silva said he asked boys to model for paintings but denied molesting them.


Times staff writers Tracy Wilson, Jenifer Ragland and William Lobdell contributed to this report.