The Tablet Staff
WINDSOR TERRACE — The Diocese of Brooklyn moved quickly to remove a deacon from a Queens church following his arrest on charges of attempting to have sex with a person he believed to be a minor.
The diocese immediately dismissed Rogelio Vega, 50, a deacon at St. Sebastian Church, Woodside, after he was arrested as part of a police sting operation on Jan. 22.
“We are horrified by the arrest and charges against Rogelio Vega,” diocese officials said in a statement.
“The Diocese of Brooklyn is committed to a Zero Tolerance Policy, as nothing is more important than the protection of children,” the statement continued.
The Diocese of Brooklyn became aware that Vega was arrested on Jan. 22 and immediately suspended the deacon. The parish administrator, Father Patrick West, addressed the parish at mass during the Jan. 23-24 weekend by reading a letter from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“In keeping with our Diocesan Policy and the 2002 Bishops Charter and Norms for the Protection of Children and Youth, [Vega] has been immediately removed from all diaconal ministry,” Bishop DiMarzio wrote.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said Vega started communicating on a dating app last July with a person he thought was a 14-year-old boy. What Vega didn’t know was the “teen” was an undercover agent. Katz said. Prosecutors said Vega exchanged pornographic pictures with the “minor” and then planned to meet in-person. When Vega showed up, the undercover agent was there to arrest him.
Vega was charged with attempted use of a child in a sexual performance, attempted criminal seuxal act, attempted dissemination of indecent material to a minor and attempted endangering the welfare of a child.
“The arrest of this individual should serve as a warning to all those who think they can prey on youngsters online without being caught,” Katz said in a statement.
Vega, who was arraigned on Jan. 22, was in court on Jan. 25, where a judge decided that the defendant’s next court appearance will take place on April 26, a spokesperson for Katz said. Vega is currently free on bail.
Vega was ordained a deacon on May 28, 2011. He had been a deacon at St. Sebastian since December, 2015. Previously, he was assigned to Most Holy Trinity-St. Mary, Williamsburg. The diocese said that there had never been any previous complaints against him before his arrest last Wednesday.
If convicted, Vega faces up to seven years behind bars.
The Diocese of Brooklyn has several protocols and systems to combat sexual abuse within the church and protect victims, including a no-tolerance policy.
Father Henry Torres of St. Sebastian Church said the parish is devastated in the wake of Vega’s arrest.
“We are feeling devastated, the parishioners are confused and also sad at the same time. But we are offering all the support we can offer. They can come to speak to us — vent. They need to know we are doing all we can to support our children,” Father Torres said.
Bishop DiMarzio said the Office of Victim Assistance will be making virtual and telephone meetings available to different groups within the St. Sebastian parish to address concerns and offer pastoral care.
“Often, just having a place to speak about such matters are the beginning steps to addressing the strong impact such news can have,” he wrote. “Once again, I encourage each of us in our resolve to protect our children and youth from all forms of abuse.”
Jasmine Salazar, vice-chancellor of the diocese and coordinator of the Office of Victim Assistance, was at St. Sebastian Church on Sunday, Jan. 24. She attended the Spanish language Mass, the Mass that Vega, as deacon, usually served.
“I was there, and I shared information on what the plans are,” she told Currents News.
In addition, Salazar contacted the parish’s religious education director. “We’re setting up different virtual meetings for parents,” she said. The diocese would have set up in-person meetings, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the diocese to hold the sessions virtually.
The meetings will be small – no more than 15 people at a time, according to Salazar. And parishioners who feel uncomfortable about attending a meeting will be able to call Salazar to discuss Vega’s arrest and the fallout. “They are welcome to call me for one on one phone time,” she said.
According to Salazar, the goal is to allow parishioners to express their shock, confusion, and anger over the deacon’s arrest. She also said the diocese is eager for parishioners to know what officials are doing to protect children.
Learning of the arrest of a church deacon on sex-related charges is difficult for parents, Salazar said. “It can be frightening because the next question is, ‘Did he have access to my child?’” she said.
Part of her focus will be “to reassure them of what policies we have in place to keep their children safe,” Salazar said.
In 2004, Bishop DiMarzio established a telephone hotline for anyone to report allegations of sexual abuse by a clergy member. The diocese’s confidential reporting line connects directly to law enforcement authorities.
Victims are encouraged to report a crime no matter when the alleged abuse occurred. The number is 888-634-4499.
This story has been updated.