Priest arrested on suspicion of sexual abuse

A Roman Catholic priest held by state police on suspicion of sexual crimes against a helpless man has maintained his innocence, reported Latvian Radio on September 5.

Pavels Zeila is currently in police custody. According to his lawyer, the circumstances of the case are unclear and his client denies taking part in events that have also led to the detention of two other individuals.

Zeila is parish priest at Our Lady of Sorrows parish, Rezekne, Dukstigals and Prezma parish, superior of the Vicariate of Latvia, and dean of Rezekne deanery. He was born in 1945 and ordained in 1977. 

He has been known in Rezekne for many years. Unnamed members of the public interviewed by Latvian Radio said they believed he was innocent and that his arrest was a provocation ahead of the visit of Pope Francis to Latvia later this month - though they did not explain who might arrange such a sequence of events or why.

Three suspects, including the priest have been detained by police officers suspected of using a helpless male for sexual exploitation. Two of the men are being held on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking and the third on suspicion of sexual abuse of a person in a state of helplessness.

"Two of the suspects provided access to a mentally disabled person, the victim, for payment and the other suspect was engaged in sexual acts as a final buyer," Armands Lubarts, Head of the Anti-Trafficking Division of the State Police, said, confirming that Zeila was believed to be the "final buyer".

The victim has been helped and a state-funded rehabilitation course for victims of human trafficking is underway.

Computers and data storage devices belonging to the suspects were also taken by police officers specialising in tackling crimes of this nature.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church of Latvia said it had received news of the detention of a priest in connection with the suspicion of trafficking in human beings. In a statement the church promised to cooperate in the investigation process "if necessary" and reminded the public of the innocence of the accused until proven otherwise. 

Pope Francis will spend just over 10 hours in Latvia on September 24, arriving at 08:20 and leaving at 18:45 for Lithuania. As previously reported by LSM, more than 800,000 euros of public money will be spent on the visit.

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