2018-08-29 / Front Page

Remains found near Santa Monica are those of retired priest with troubled past

Staff Writer

Rev. William “Bill” Costello Rev. William “Bill” Costello The body of a South Padre Island man found last week buried in the floodway levees near Santa Monica has been identified as that of a retired Catholic priest from Massachusetts.

Arrested and charged with the murder of the Rev. William “Bill” Costello, 71, was Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo, 27, a resident alien who had been living in San Benito.

Baez Escobedo had been released from the Cameron County jail on Wednesday after his arrest for interfering with evidence. He was re-arrested the same day by Texas Rangers for the murder of Costello. Escobedo was not at his home in San Benito but was arrested in the house of a relative not far away, Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence said.

Baez Escobedo was arraigned early Friday in Raymondville by Assistant Willacy County District Attorney Chuck Mattingly. Charged with Costello’s murder, Escobedo’s bail was set at $2 million.

Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo Costello had a troubled past in Massachusetts. He was under investigation by Rhode Island State Police, which led to early retirement as requested by a bishop, media reports from Massachusetts and surrounding states show.

Although the police investigation did not result in any criminal charges, Costello allegedly was investigated there for paying a young man for sex and may have been tied to a network of gay Catholic priests.

Church officials were quick to reassure the public that Costello was not accused of abusing minors, according to East Coast media reports.

Although not charged or convicted of a crime, his early retirement from the active priesthood, was requested because of “instances of poor judgment,” church officials told local media.

On Aug. 20, the Fall River, Mass., Diocese issued a statement on his death:

“Father Costello had been reported missing on Aug. 1.

“The circumstances of the matter are disturbing. Authorities have made an arrest in connection with the discovery of his body; beyond that, the diocese has no other details at this time. We await additional information as authorities continue their investigation.

“We offer our prayers for the repose of the soul of Father Costello. We also extend our prayers for his family, his friends and those whom he served as a priest.”

Costello’s background was outlined by the diocese statement: “A native of Northampton, Mass, Father Costello was ordained a priest for the Fall River Diocese in 1974. He first served as a parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth until 1978, when he was named chaplain at Sturdy Hospital in Attleboro. In 1985, he was assigned as parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish, Norton, serving there until 1990, when he was transferred to St. Anthony Parish, Mattapoisett, in the same capacity. He became administrator at St. Mary Parish in Taunton in 1993 and named pastor there in 1994. He was appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish in East Falmouth in 1999.

“In 2011, he became pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk. In January, 2012, then Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman placed him on administrative leave following notifications from the Rhode Island State Police that Father Costello was part of an investigation that is had undertaken.

No charges were filed against Costello at any time, the Diocese said in the statement.

In 2010, Costello and Msgr. John Perry, vicar general, were sued in Falmouth by the Rev. John Harrington, a Fall River priest for “spreading a baseless rumor about his private conduct,” the diocese said in its statement.

In an article attributed to the “Church Militant” website, the possible criminal activity that Costello was being investigated for by Rhode Island State Police was while Costello was serving as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. “Sources told Church Militant that he was allegedly giving money to a young man that he was having a sexual relationship with.”

The online publication stated Costello was still a priest: “Church Militant spoke with John Kearns, the director of communications for the diocese, who confirmed Father. Costello was still a priest in good standing at the time of his death.”

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