The 73-year-old Austin-born clergyman has proclaimed the Gospel for decades in Texas, Mississippi, Arizona and villages in Mexico, where he used a bullhorn to preach under the stars.
Because of problems in his past — the exact nature of which neither he nor Catholic Church officials would describe — he doesn’t have the church’s permission to be in Costa Rica or to function as a priest. He says he needn’t answer to church officials on that subject — just to the Virgin Mary.
And so he prays, counsels, advises and even celebrates Mass with pilgrims who come here to listen to Delgado, who says he receives messages from Jesus Christ, the Virgin and St. Michael.
Prado said he is Delgado’s spiritual adviser and that he was called here by the Virgin.
He said the Oblates turned their backs on him despite his having preached the Gospel for so long.
“They threw me out in my old age and my blindness and all — they threw me out, no money, no nothing,” said Prado, who said his only income is a monthly $160 Social Security check.
Prado left the United States last year without permission and is disobeying the church by functioning as a priest, wrote Father David Kalert, who heads the U.S. Oblates out of Washington, in an Aug. 20 letter to Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Ureña of San José, Costa Rica.
“There are various, very grave allegations against him, and they seem to be credible,” states the letter, without mentioning specifics.
Among those who have now come forward after hearing Prado was practicing as a priest again are Ricardo Salinas, 50, and Mike Huerta, also 50.
Both men, who said they have never met each other, attended Jeremiah Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio and said they were molested by Prado a generation ago at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church. Prado served at St. Timothy’s from 1966 to 1969 and in 1971.
Neither filed a police report at the time of the incidents, which occurred in the late 1960s. They said their parents and nobody else believed them.
Salinas, who said he’s gone through years of therapy, is pursuing a monetary agreement with the church after he said the Oblates brought up a settlement when he recently complained about Prado.
Oblate officials declined to comment.
Prado denies ever molesting anyone or ever having known the two men.
Ordained in 1957, Prado is heavy-set and moves slowly. As he sat under an awning to avoid a heavy downpour on a recent afternoon, he wore khaki slacks, a blue guayabera shirt and a wooden cross around his neck.
He needs a special magnified reader for his Bible and binoculars to look around the property.
Despite limited peripheral vision due to a disease, macular degeneration, his eyes seemed piercing as he discussed his faith, his career and the allegations against him.
He said his accusers are after money and pointed to Scripture in his defense.
“You will be persecuted, they will invent calumnies. They will hate you, drag you to courts,” Prado said. “Everything that has happened here.”
After Prado’s past was reported by Costa Rican newspapers and television, several of Delgado’s followers from San Antonio held a news conference here to show their support for him.
They later released a statement that said that years ago Prado was accused but not charged with molestation and that he’d been sent to a church-run treatment facility, which found him to be healthy. His accuser, who was not named, recanted, they said.
Among the pilgrims that come here are two of Prado’s sisters, who said they have complete faith in the sibling they call “Father Prado.”