A San Diego priest is facing charges for having sex with a woman in Minnesota while religiously advising her, allegedly paying her to keep quiet about their relationship.
Jacob Andrew Bertrand, 32, a priest at the Diocese of San Diego, was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the 3rd degree for having sex with the woman in 2010, according to a complaint filed in the County of Dakota in Minnesota.
The compaint alleges that Bertrand and the woman met while they were both studying in Rome, Italy in 2009. He allegedly engaged in sex with her while she was seeking religious advice from him after they had moved back to the U.S. The complaint states that Bertrand contacted the victim, writing her a letter and apologizing for his actions.
The complaint claims Bertrand used religion to prey on the woman’s desire to find a husband, claiming he was the man she was sent to Rome to meet. When the two flew to Minnesota later that year they stayed with the woman's family.
The complaint claims two sexual encounters took place during that trip – one while he was performing a mass for the woman in her parent's basement.
After the ceremony, the complaint claims he told the woman that what happened between them was “so mystical,” no one should know about it.
The woman claims Bertrand then sent her $1,000 to pay for school. The woman also claims that, in a conversation over the phone, the priest told her: “The Devil tempts me to think that you will tell someone and ruin my ministry.”
The complaint says the woman reported the sexual acts to church officials in 2012; her claims were forwarded to the Diocese for investigation in 2014. She filed a police report in April 2016.
The Diocese of San Diego confirmed Friday that Bertrand is facing these charges in Minnesota.
According to Aida Bustos, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, Bertrand filed for a leave of absence when he learned of a possibility of charges being filed. The leave of absence was granted.
The statement in part, read: "There have been no allegations lodged against Fr. Jacob here in San Diego, where he remains on a leave of absence and currently has no faculties. The diocese is not involved in his legal defense. Out of respect for all parties and for the legal process, the diocese will make no further statement at this time.”
Bertrand served at the St. Rose Lima Parish in Chula Vista from 2010 to 2013 and at the Santa Sophia Parish in Spring Valley from 2013 to 2015.
Fr. Devdas Masillamony, of Santa Sophia Church, spoke with NBC 7 Friday and said he was shocked by the allegations against Bertrand, whom Masillamony said is beloved by many.
"He’s a very caring person. He loved the people. Loved his ministry. He’s a man of prayer and a very charismatic person," said Masillamony. "What comes to mind is the Lord is my shepherd there's nothing I shall want. I think God knows the truth."
Another religious colleague of Bertrand’s told NBC 7 the priest has had a major impact on his family’s spiritual health, and the allegations against Bertrand don’t sound like the man he knows.
Bertrand’s attorney, Marc Carlos of San Diego-based law firm, Bardsley & Carlos, told NBC 7 Friday that he will not be releasing a formal statement about his client’s case, but said they will fight against these allegations, which are not true.
Bertrand faces up to 15 years in prison, if convicted.