A former Harford County priest was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in federal prison followed by a lifetime of supervised release for illegal sexual activity with minors, the Maryland’s U.S. Attorney’s Office reported.
Fernando Cristancho, 65, of Bel Air, pleaded guilty in October to coercing and enticing a minor he met through his work as a priest to engage in sexual activity. Cristancho also admitted to producing nude images of four other minors, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.
U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander ordered Cristancho to register as a sex offender in the places where he resides, where he is an employee, and where he is a student, under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.
“Cristancho is finally being held accountable for his horrific crimes,” said Erek L. Barron, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. “Let this sentence serve as a deterrent to anyone that seeks to sexually abuse children, especially those in trusted positions intended to be a safe place and haven for children. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland will relentlessly pursue and prosecute predators that exploit the trust of children and families.”
According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Cristancho was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in Colombia, South America, in 1985 and moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he was an assistant priest from 1994 to 1997.
Around 1999, Cristancho was granted priesthood in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, first in Baltimore County and then at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Harford County. After arriving at St. Ignatius in 1999, Cristancho became close with a woman and her then-8-year-old grandson, according to the plea agreement.
The woman was a regular parishioner at St. Ignatius and would often bring her grandson with her, according to an agreed statement of facts. Cristancho began to grow close to the family, spending time with them outside church.
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When the boy turned 11, the U.S. attorney’s office said, Cristancho began sexually abusing the child. Cristancho would complain of a bad back and ask the boy for back rubs, the U.S. attorney’s office stated. He would also offer the boy alcohol, kiss him and act as if they were in a romantic relationship, including telling the boy that he loved him. Cristancho also showed the boy pornography and suggested they perform the sexual activities depicted, authorities said.
When Cristancho left St. Ignatius, the U.S. attorney’s office stated, he would hold religious ceremonies at a parishioner’s house where the boy would act as a lector, a role he performed while at St. Ignatius with Cristancho. In the summer of 2002, Cristancho became more involved with the family, inviting himself on a camping trip, arranging for the boy to help him around the house and spending weekends with him.
It was during those weekend stays that Cristancho sexually abused the boy, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The abuse continued from 2002 through fall 2003, prosecutors said. The Archdiocese of Baltimore revoked Cristancho’s authority to work as a priest in 2002.
Cristancho’s crimes were discovered by authorities after he went to a pharmacy to use its printing equipment in September 2017, prosecutors stated. An employee at the pharmacy saw what appeared to be photos of naked children on Cristancho’s phone while assisting him and made a report to the police.
Police served a search warrant on Cristancho’s home on Sept. 19, 2017. During the search, investigators seized various digital devices including a smartphone. A forensic examination of the phone resulted in the discovery of nude photos and videos of four other minor victims, with most of the images being recorded when the victims were less than 5 years old, authorities said.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the U.S.Attorney’s Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims.