The Catholic Diocese of Yakima says it has offered counseling to two men who reported that they were abused in the early 1970s by a priest while he was visiting a Moses Lake parish.

Diocesan officials said the alleged abuser, the late Rev. Hilario Ramírez, a visiting priest from Mexico, came to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Moses Lake for a few weeks in the early 1970s. During his stay, Ramírez lived with at least two families, and is alleged to have abused four children, all boys ranging in age from 7 to 13. Two of the victims are deceased.

One of the surviving victims, who lives in Texas, provided basic information about the priest and alleged abuse to the diocese. A second reported victim lives in Washington state. Both men have been offered counseling.

“It’s still a bit of a mystery after some 40 years,” said Monsignor Robert Siler, chancellor of the Yakima diocese. “It’s difficult to get information after the passage of that much time. He (the man from Texas) didn’t have the (priest’s) name when he contacted us.”

After talking to parishioners who lived in Moses Lake in the 1970s, Siler was able to determine the priest’s identity and found a second family who said that their son had also been abused by Ramírez.

Ramírez returned to Mexico after being treated for a stomach ulcer. Parishioners who stayed in contact with the priest told diocesan officials that he died in an automobile accident in Mexico in the early 1980s.

Siler contacted the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico City about Ramírez, but officials there could find no record of him. Siler said documents at that time might not have been detailed, or Ramírez may have been from a religious order and not considered a diocesan employee.

Talking about the alleged abuse was particularly difficult for the victims, which explains why so much time elapsed before they came forward, Siler said.

Siler told parishioners at Our Lady of Fatima Parish about the allegations during four Masses over the weekend and led a prayer for victims of abuse and all victims of violence.

He said civil authorities in Grant County were informed of the allegations about Ramírez several months ago.

In a news release Monday, diocesan officials encouraged any other potential victims to come forward. “We’re hoping there aren’t any more victims, but we just don’t know,” Siler said.

The Yakima Diocese encourages anyone wishing to report sexual abuse by personnel of the Yakima Diocese to call the diocese’s confidential abuse hotline, 888-276-4490.

However, responding to the diocesan news release, the executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), headquartered in Chicago, disagreed with that action. “We urge anyone who may have knowledge or suspicions about Father Ramírez to call their local police or sheriff’s department, not church authorities,” said David Clohessy in an email to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

• Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or jgargas@yakimaherald.com.