A MEMBER of the clergy was recently removed as a parish priest in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental after he was accused of allegedly molesting a four-year-old girl on February 8.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos ordered the removal of the priest, whom SunStar Bacolod refused to name, effective immediately in order to give the accused, time to spiritually prepare himself to face the allegations and to give way for an impartial investigation.
“I have assigned a priest to take over temporarily the shepherding of the parish concerned,” he said.
Alminaza has tasked two priests to probe the incident after the family of the victim reported the incident to the police on February 23.
Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, city police chief, said the mother informed the police that her child was allegedly molested by their parish priest on February 23.
Mansueto said the mother was serving the parish as secretary and she would always bring her daughter there.
She noticed something strange from her daughter when the latter was hesitant to go with her that day because of the incident.
Mansueto said the incident happened at the comfort room of the convent.
Based on the medical results, the victim was negative of laceration but the incident can still be considered as an alleged rape because of the reported sexual assault by kissing and playing with her private part, Mansueto said.
He (priest) allegedly did it several times while the child’s mother was busy doing her parish work, Mansueto said.
Police already filed charges for violation of 266-A paragraph 2 of Republic Act (RA) 8353 or the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 in relation to the RA 7610 or the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act” before the City Prosecutor’s Office Wednesday, February 27.
Mansueto said the priest remains at large.
He added they have no basis yet to arrest the suspect because he needs to undergo due process and the fiscal will have to resolve the complaint first.
As this developed, Alminaza said the priest has denied the accusations against him but the bishop made it clear that they are not siding with his statements.
“We are greatly saddened and shocked that a young child is alleged to have been molested by one of our clergies,” he added.
Alminaza said the accused priest was shocked about the accusations against him but he is willing to face the allegation to prove his innocence.
“We also acknowledged his right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise and we are committed to assist and cooperate in the process so the truth will come out and justice is served,” Alminaza said.
Following the recent guidelines of our Holy Father to focus on protecting children rather than “protecting the institution” and to provide the accompaniment of those who have been abused with an emphasis on listening, we have reached out to the family of the minor, Alminaza said.
“We assure the family we are concerned that their child is given proper care and intervention and we have asked our parish leaders to reach out to them on our behalf,” he added.
“We have offered help and support as well both to the accused and his family of origin and his pastoral council and eventually to our presbyterium and the affected parish community,” he said.
While we allow the legal process to take its course the church will proceed with its own canonical process which involves providing pastoral care to the alleged victim and accused and whoever is involved in the investigation, he said.
“We are committed to search for truth and to make sure the process will be fair and just to both parties and whoever is responsible will have to face the consequences,” he added.
The bishop has also made an appeal to the public to be calm until the investigation carried out by the authorities has been completed and released.
Earlier, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines assured the faithful that they are not disregarding reports of abuses involving members of the clergy.
CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Clergy (ECC) Chairman Bishop Buenaventura Famadico said it would be inaccurate to paint a picture of the Church as simply sitting on complaints of clergy abuse.
“If there are reforms and corrective actions needed, surely the church is working on it,” Famadico said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
But the prelate said working on such reforms does not mean that its specifics must be made public.
“We don’t need to publicize them because that is unnecessary. What is more important is that the reforms are being done,” said Famadico. (with reports from TDE)