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San Diego parish priest sentenced for seducing woman seeking spiritual help

A chance encounter in Rome led a Minnesota woman to seek spiritual solace from a San Diego man studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood, Jacob Bertrand.

She received his prayers — and a sexual relationship that Bertrand later described as "the second holiest sacrifice next to Jesus and Mary on Calvary."

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In a Minnesota courtroom Monday, Bertrand was sentenced to 10 years' probation and a $1,000 fine for criminal sexual conduct. He was also ordered to complete an assessment as a sex offender and then undergo any recommended therapy.

Under the terms of a plea agreement, Bertrand would face up to four years' imprisonment if he violates the terms of his probation.

"The plea agreement in this case was entered into after considerable discussions with the victim and upon receiving her consent," said the prosecutor, Dakota County Attorney James C. Backstrom. "We are pleased that Mr. Bertrand has been held accountable for his actions."

Bertrand, now 35, was ordained a priest in 2010. During a private Mass celebrated in a Minnesota home later that year, he had sex with the woman he had met while studying in Rome.

She complained to church officials in Minnesota in 2012 and 2014, the latter complaint being forwarded to the San Diego diocese. In April 2016, she went to the police and made a criminal complaint.

Bertrand was indicted in Minnesota in October 2016. This January, he pleaded guilty to the single charge of criminal sexual conduct.

For the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, Bertrand served in four parishes: St. Rose of Lima in Chula Vista (2010-2013), Santa Sophia in Spring Valley (2013-2015), and St. Vincent de Paul in Mission Hills and St. John the Evangelist in Hillcrest (both 2015-2016).

He also gave talks to college students at San Diego State University's Newman Center.

In August 2016, he took a leave of absence.

"Father Jacob is not expected to return to active ministry," Kevin Eckery, a diocesan spokesman, said Monday.

Bertrand faced maximum penalties of 15 years in prison and $30,000 in fines.

Rowe writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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