A DISGRACED Catholic priest has been charged with attempting to hire a hitman to murder a teenage boy who accused him of sexual assault.
John Fiala, 52, was arrested in Texas after an undercover agent posing as a contract killer was allegedly approached by the suspended priest last week.
The priest had been removed from active ministry in October 2008 after information was passed to the church by law-enforcement officers, but he was not charged with sexual assault at the time.
Earlier this year, the boy filed a series of lawsuits claiming he was raped at gunpoint by Father Fiala, and accusing the Catholic Church in Texas of covering up the priest’s behaviour.
The sheriff of Edwards County, Don Letsinger, said he was shocked the priest had made such an apparently brazen attempt to silence his accuser.
“I have to honestly say I didn’t expect this,” the sheriff said.
“I really was kind of surprised he would stick his neck out this far, and talk to people he didn’t even know about having someone murdered.”
Mr Letsinger told the San Antonio Express-News the investigation began after a neighbour told the police he had been solicited to commit the murder, “and he didn’t want anything to do with that”.
Police said an undercover officer was subsequently offered $US5000 to murder the teenager. Father Fiala was being held in a Dallas County jail on one count of solicitation to commit murder and two of aggravated sexual assault of a child, after a judge set bail at $US700,000.
The boy’s lawyer, Tom Rhodes, said his client was relieved the priest was back in custody. “Fiala had threatened him with physical violence and threatened to kill him before, and he was very afraid of that,” Mr Rhodes said.
In April, Father Fiala was named in a lawsuit filed by the boy’s family, who accused him of twice forcing the youth to have sex at gunpoint. The abuse allegedly took place in 2007 and 2008, when Father Fiala was a priest in rural west Texas. The lawsuit also named the Archdiocese of San Antonio and Archbishop Jose Gomez, alleging the church leadership should have known the priest was abusive.