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Spotlight Report

Alleged abuse victim of priest takes stand

By Caroline Louise Cole, Globe Correspondent, 6/11/2003

LAWRENCE -- On the five occasions the Rev. Kelvin Iguabita allegedly sexually assaulted her at age 15, a Haverhill woman said she didn't verbally resist his advances because she had been taught to believe ''priests could do no wrong.''

Testifying in Lawrence Superior Court yesterday at the start of Iguabita's trial on sexual assault charges, the now-18-year-old woman also said she didn't think anyone would have believed her allegations because Iguabita was popular, and she was ''painfully shy'' and had few friends.

In a case that surfaced just as the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal was unfolding, Iguabita pleaded not guilty 18 months ago to a single count of rape of a child under 16, one count of assault with intent to rape a child under 16, one count of unnatural acts on a child under 16, and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. The Globe does not release the names of sexual assault victims without their permission.

Iguabita, a native of Colombia, was placed on administrative leave from his post as assistant pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Haverhill following his arrest in January 2002, said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Iguabita is free on $15,000 bail from Essex County Jail in Middleton and has been working as a car salesman and landscaper, said his defense attorney, Martin Leppo of Randolph.

The alleged victim was called as the first witness by Assistant District Attorney Kristen Buxton. In 90 minutes of nearly emotionless testimony before Judge Richard Welch, the woman told the jury that her parents had urged her to take a secretarial post at the church rectory on Saturday afternoons because they considered it a ''safe'' environment.

She alleged Iguabita's advances began about six months after she started work and that they happened when they were alone in the rectory, where Iguabita and two other priests lived.

In his opening argument, Leppo said he would show that the state doesn't have the evidence to prove Iguabita's guilt and that the rectory was a ''beehive of activity'' with the comings and goings of priests and congregants, so it would be tough for the pair to have been alone together.

Leppo said Iguabita was chaperoning a church trip to a Red Sox game in Boston on one of the days the teen said he assaulted her.

The jury is scheduled to tour the church rectory this morning with testimony resuming afterward.

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 6/11/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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