August 19, 2015

A former New Jersey priest who is accused of raping a 15-year-old boy said this week that the teen had "evil" thoughts and "wanted" to have sex.

Earlier this year, Max Rojas Ramirez filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark alleging that he had been raped by Rev. Manuel Gallo Espinoza in a rectory bedroom at the age of 15.

Ramirez told NJ Advance Media that he did not know that he was speaking to Father Espinoza when he admitted in confessional that he was confused about his sexuality, which he said resulted from being molested by a male cousin at the age of 8.

"I was looking for guidance and trying to figure out all these things, and eventually I came to tell him about the attraction I had toward guys," he recalled.

Not long after that, the priest contacted Ramirez and requested to see him in person, and then refused to take him home, insisting that he spend the night in the rectory.

That night, Ramirez said that he woke up and "felt something very heavy on top of me."

"It hurt. I was in pain," Ramirez explained. "My eyes popped open, and he had his whole body on top of me. He started touching me and kissing me. I was shaking. I couldn't move. I couldn't talk."

"Don't worry," Gallo Espinoza reportedly told him. "This is what God wants."

Ramirez recalled being stripped naked by the priest and being raped before he blacked out.

Espinoza, who fled to Ecuador in 2003, told NJ Advance Media this week that he regretted the encounter, but that Ramirez "wanted" it.

"One thing that I am conscious (of) is he was at that time a teenager, and it is a big mistake for me. But I didn't force him to do anything he didn't want," Espinoza wrote in an email. "He was older (sic) enough to walk away, but I think that I was attracted to him, that is the only explanation that I can think right now."

"He had something evil in his mind. He approached me many times," he added.

When asked if he knew that raping a 15-year-old child was a crime, Espinoza suggested that it was legal in his home country of Ecuador because a person of that age "is not consider (sic) so innocent." The age of consent in Ecuador is 14 years old.

Espinoza said that he fled to Ecuador in 2003 after the church's youth group leader, Antonino Salazar, and the boy's godfather, Jeive Hercules, warned him that he was "going to get in big trouble."

"You better leave," the men advised, according to Espinoza. "God prays for you. Go back to your country."

Although Ecuador has an extradition treaty with the United States, a 2012 study found that the country declined to extradite anyone between 2003 and 2011. In contrast, Colombia turned over 1,201 people during that same period.

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