Defrocked Puerto Rico priest charged

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A defrocked priest in Puerto Rico has been charged with lewd acts in a case that prosecutors say involved a 13-year-old altar boy.

The charges filed Thursday against Edwin Mercado Viera come amid a criminal investigation into numerous allegations of sexual abuse involving at least four dioceses in the U.S. territory.

Prosecutors accuse 53-year-old Mercado of fondling the teenage boy in 2007.

Mercado did not enter a formal plea, but defense attorney Cesar Cerezo said Mercado did not commit any crimes and rejects the charges against him.

Mercado is the first of six defrocked priests from the Diocese of Arecibo to face criminal charges.

The once-popular priest is scheduled to appear in court March 20 for a preliminary hearing.

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