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Priest Pleads No Contest; Agrees to Leave the Country

Priest Pleads No Contest; Agrees to Leave the Country

Posted - Sep. 10, 2003 at 10:59 a.m.



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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- The Rev. Mario Arbelaez Olarte has pleaded no contest to a charge of enticing a minor over the Internet and has agreed to leave the country.

Under terms of a plea bargain, Arbelaez Olarte, 44, will return to his native Colombia.

Arbelaez Olarte entered the plea Tuesday and sentencing was set by 2nd District Judge Scott Hadley for Nov. 4.

However, Arbelaez Olarte may be out of the country before then, defense attorney Bernie Allen said.

The priest could leave voluntarily, or he could be put through deportation proceedings, which would mean jail time pending his processing by immigration officials, Allen and Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward said.

Arbelaez Olarte was arrested May 14 by police at a rendezvous that he had arranged with whom he thought was a 15-year-old boy while in a Gay.com chat room. The supposed boy actually was a law enforcement officer.

The rendezvous was a block from Ogden's St. Joseph's Catholic Church, where Arbelaez Olarte lived and worked.

He was suspended two days later by the Catholic Diocese for Utah.

Arbelaez Olarte has been living with different friends in the Salt Lake area since his arrest.

About 50 parishioners showed up for his disposition hearing Tuesday. "We would have had 300 here today, but so many had to work," said Eduardo Rivera. "What we're trying to do is we want people to know he is not alone."

The congregation is standing by Arbelaez Olarte, he said.

"It won't change how we feel about him," Rivera said shortly before Arbelaez Olarte entered his plea. "We'll still love him ... because of everything he built in every parish he worked in. He won the confidence of every single family."

Arbelaez Olarte claimed he had only been doing Web research and he denied seeking sex.

Heward said, "His parishioners are in denial about this case."

The chat room transcripts show Arbelaez Olarte talking about performing specific sexual acts with the supposed teenage boy, Heward said.

"He talked about what he wanted to do and what he wanted him to do," Heward said.

Defense attorney Allen responded that as his client often said, "He's not going to get any information if he says, `Hi, I'm Father Mario."' "

Allen and parishioners maintain Arbelaez Olarte was immersing himself in the online homosexual culture because of concerns families at St. Joseph's had about their children and the Internet.

Regarding officials' claim that adult pornography was found on the priest's computer, Allen said, "There is no evidence on his computer that he has been soliciting children on the Internet other than this one instance."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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