A Portuguese priest has been suspended by the Diocese of Hamilton, Ontario, over allegations of sexual abuse
The Canadian newspaper Hamilton Spectator says the 49-year-old Father Heitor Antunes has been suspended from duty at St. Mary's Church (northern Hamilton) since March 4 in the wake of allegations of "sexual abuse." Antunes left his official residence, located on Park Street North, on March 8.
According to a report published in the online version of Portuguese newspaper Observador, the priest - who had a son with a catechist with whom he was involved when she was still a minor - was also suspended from the Diocese of Vila Real.
The alleged love affair is said to have begun when the young woman (now 29) was 14 and the priest was 34.
According to Observador, which cites "a source in the diocese," the priest went to Canada after these events.
The priest was working with Portuguese communities in Canda, but the diocese ordered him to return to Portugal. Antunes is barred from celebrating mass or performing sacraments.
The Diocese of Hamilton claims it was unaware of Heitor Antunes' past and says it became aware of the allegations through Observador's report. The priest was then questioned on March 2.
"We told him that due to the nature of the allegations, he would be suspended immediately from priestly ministry in this diocese," said the Vicar General of the diocese Murray Kroetsch.
The head of the diocese added that he "advised Heitor Antunes to return to Portugal" and sort it out.
"If these allegations are false and your name is cleared, we will have to see what happens. A priest having a child is a moral fault, a sin, and can be forgiven, it's not a crime," he said.
If the allegations are proven, the crime has already prescribed.
Hamilton, home to about 20,000 Portuguese migrants and Portuguese descendants, is located to the west of Lake Ontario, 70 kilometers south of Toronto.