San Antonio (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest has been arrested on charges that he solicited a hit man to kill a teenager who had accused him of sexual abuse.
Authorities said John Fiala first offered the job to a neighbor, who blew the whistle and helped police arrange a sting. They said Fiala got as far as negotiating a $5,000 price for the slaying before investigators moved in.
The 52-year-old priest was arrested Thursday at his suburban Dallas home and jailed on $700,000 bond. In April, he was named in a lawsuit filed by the boy's family, who accused Fiala of molesting the youth, including twice forcing him to have sex at gunpoint.
The abuse allegedly took place in 2007 and 2008, when Fiala was a priest at the Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in the west Texas community of Rocksprings.
The family's lawsuit also named the Archdiocese of San Antonio and Archbishop Jose Gomez, alleging that church leadership should have known Fiala was abusive.
The suit was filed a month before Gomez was introduced as the new incoming leader of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. He is serving as an assistant to Cardinal Roger Mahony, who will retire next year. Gomez then automatically becomes archbishop.
When he learned of the murder-for-hire investigation, the boy "was terrified, and rightly so," said Tom Rhodes, the boy's lawyer. As far back as 2008, Fiala threatened the teen and repeatedly brandished a pistol, Rhodes said.
Fiala "began saying, 'If you tell anyone, I'll hurt you, I'll hurt your family, your girlfriend,' " Rhodes said. "It was more than once he threatened him with a gun."
Fiala only recently rented a place to live more than 300 miles northeast of Rocksprings, in suburban Garland, where police say he initiated the attempted contract killing.
Rhodes said an anonymous informant who initially identified himself as a neighbor of Fiala contacted his office and said the priest had approached him about killing the accuser, who was 16 at the time and is now in his late teens. Rhodes urged the informant to contact the police, who then sent an undercover agent to meet with Fiala.
Rhodes said he had been told Fiala offered $5,000 to carry out the killing. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said he could not confirm the amount of money that was allegedly involved.
Fiala is charged with one count of solicitation to commit capital murder and two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Jail records list his attorney as Rex Gunter in Dallas, but he was in court Tuesday and did not return a call from the Associated Press.
San Antonio Archdiocese spokesman Pat Rodgers said Fiala had been removed from the public ministry, meaning he could not present himself as a priest.
Authorities removed him in October 2008, before the accusations of sexual assault emerged, because of his interference with the custodial relationship between the teen in Rocksprings and his grandmother — a case the sheriff's office investigated. Authorities have not disclosed the nature of Fiala's interference.