JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A former Jones County priest is behind bars for allegedly sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy.
"Now you see here a priest, a man of the cloth, has violated a young child," Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge said. "We know for a fact that the 12-year-old boy, on two different occasions that we know of, was engaged in a sexual act with this man. You think 'Well how did that happen?' You've got a grown man who's influenced this 12-year-old kid to allow the priest to perform sexual acts on him. Sick."
Sheriff Hodge said 36-year-old Jose Vazquez was charged with two counts of sexual battery of a minor, and had his bond set at $100,000 cash bond due to him being a flight risk.
"He just recently returned from Mexico," Hodge said. "Certainly have no reason to think that he wouldn't go back, so thankful for a $100,000 cash bond. Obviously you think, 'well it needs to be higher,' but we have to stay within the parameters of the law."
According to the Diocese of Biloxi, Vazquez has worked as the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wiggins and St. Lucy Mission in Lucedale since Jan. 15, 2014. He was the parochial vicar or associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Laurel about four years ago, according to Sheriff Hodge, and has also worked at Sacred Heart Parish in Hattiesburg.
A news release from the Jones County Sheriff's Department said deputies were dispatched Wednesday after the boy's father "reported inappropriate behavior between his son and a priest who previously worked in Jones County."
"It was actually caught happening in the act," Sheriff Hodge said. "Can you imagine a mother walking in and finding their 12-year-old son engaged in some kind type of sexual activity with a grown man? A family friend, at the home, a priest, a man of the cloth, someone you've trusted who is now performing a sexual act on your 12-year-old son?"
Hodge said his department is handling two cases, but their investigation is ongoing. According to the news release, Vazquez "confessed to multiple acts of sexual battery with this victim, one occurring in Jones County and other occurrences in different jurisdictions." Hodge said they are working with authorities in Stone County and Wiggins on the investigation. He also said he would not be surprised if other victims start to come forward.
"It always does, and the investigation will continue," Hodge said. "That's the thing. We want the victims out there to know that we're here for you, regardless to how dark things may become around us."
Sheriff Hodge said these types of cases take a toll on his department.
"We get up every morning with another sickening case like this," Hodge said. "Can you imagine these law enforcement officers and what they're having to go through on a day-to-day basis? It's unbelievable. No wonder they're bailing out of the career field, but we've got some quality, qualified men and women here that serve this county and are dealing with this. We want the public to know, other victims to know, we want you to come forward. You can trust us. We're going to do the job."
Hodge said just this past weekend, his department opened 22 felony cases in Jones County.
"The first thing that comes to my mind is we need to pause and ask ourselves where we are as a country," Hodge said. "I mean, we're seeing this stuff, more and more and more, not just here, but all around the country."
The Diocese of Biloxi oversees the parishes where Vazquez worked and issued this statement:
"We wish to make it absolutely clear that the Diocese of Biloxi makes every effort to protect and to provide a safe environment for the children and young people entrusted to our care. We are saddened and deeply regret any actions or behavior by clergy or any other personnel who might betray the trust placed in us. Sexual misconduct with a minor on the part of any clergyman is reprehensible and will not be tolerated. We pledge our full cooperation with authorities on this matter. We also pledge our prayers and support to the victim and family going forward."