CALIFORNIA, USA -- Ilonggo Catholic priest Fr. Lowe Dongor is “enjoying” his temporary liberty after a US court recently granted an earlier plea for probation.
Albeit with travel restrictions and faced with possible deportation, Dongor faces up to his plight. Or so he said he tries to do every day.
Originally charged in 2011 with theft and possession of child pornography in Worcester, Massachusetts, he was additionally charged with one felony count of Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP).
Dongor surrendered to the Philippine's National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Western Visayas in December 2012. He is a native of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.
In a phone interview, he disclosed his 10-day Los Angeles detention following said surrender. He was then brought to Worcester where the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) filed the UFAP charge before Judge Robert Collings, US Magistrate Judge of the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse in the District of Massachusetts.
Docketed as 12-mj-1065-RBC, the FBI filed the UFAP felony charge in February 23, 2012 with the offense a "Category II." The FBI was then called in by the Office of the Worcester District Attorney following Dongor's failure to appear in an October 2011 Court hearing.
All throughout his detention, Dongor said he spent his days praying and asking for forgiveness. And jail it was, yet he said there never was a time he lost hope nor feared for his life. Unable to get himself a lawyer, the State provided a government counsel who fought for his case and eventually got him a probation.
"I cannot travel outside the State of Massachusetts and it was also made clear to me that I may be deported back to the Philippines anytime. I respect that and I am still very grateful that I have this new lease on life and freedom," Dongor said.
"Meantime, I have to report twice a month in the next six months for my counseling. I go around using public transport and I get by with God's grace with Filipino friends who continued to stand by me. There were a lot who closed their doors and I understand that. But God is most good for still giving me Filipino friends who gives me shelter now and helps me out with whatever jobs I can have so I can pay for my monthly penalties," he added.
Dongor said he longs to return to the Philippines "but only after I have served my probation." And when that time comes, he admits that priesthood, like most of his former Filipino parishioners in Worcester, will also be gone.
"I used to say, once a priest, forever a priest. But realistically speaking, after what I have done of which I am forever sorry, I know I need to move on," he said, while adding that second choice for him then was to become a journalist.
He was the Associate Pastor of St. Joseph Parish of the Diocese of Worcester in Massachusetts and asked to go on administrative leave when charged and arraigned of the charges.
Dongor, upon his surrender to the FBI through the NBI, wrote a public apology while appealing to local media to spare his family.
"My heart is in grief...I want to apologize to all the people who has believed and supported me for the damaged I have done to you all, to the church and to myself," the handwritten apology letter went. "Please spare my family. Throw everything at me, vilify me if you must, but please not my family, especially my mother...I am facing up to the terrible mistakes I have committed and I plead for prayers alongside for forgiveness. But again, please spare my family."
And "face up" to the charges Dongor did as he returned to the US reeling from the "fugitive" tag.
In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has yet to lift the warning it issued on Dongor's "not in good standing" status with the Catholic Church.
At the time of his surrender, Dongor owned up to the gravity of the charges while stressing that he was done running and ready to face it all.
Dongor was to be the first Filipino priest of the predominantly white Diocese of Worcester of Massachusetts. On the first year of his priesthood, he was charged with larceny for taking some $250 of the Church's collections.
The amount, he admitted, was sent back to his family in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. The larceny charge though deepened when upon suspension of his Church duties, authorities secured from his personal laptop images of child pornography.
"Human as I am, I was weak and I was not able to resist the temptation. But still, this is not an excuse. I know that the scandal that I have done affected the lives of many people who, again, love me, believed in me and supported me. With this, I am so sorry," his apology continued.
"To most people who know me, they are aware that I have a devotion to the Blessed Mother. I knew, most of you will also ask a question, 'why then he did such scandal?' I am aware that many of you are disappointed about me. I am so sorry," he said in a statement.
"One thing I can assure of you is that still I am a devotee of the Blessed Mother. Now that I need her intercessory the most, I have to and always pray through her intercession."
"During this darkness of my life, I felt I was lost and I do not know what to do. I felt I was all alone. I felt that people who are dear and close to me little by little depart from me. I felt I was the only one fighting for my survival. Being alone in a foreign land, I felt I was neglected. It seems that I was in a cage, so dark and I am trying to catch up my breath. I was exhausted and I cannot think well," he said.
His surrender came in December of 2012 with the official turn-over made by NBI lead agent, lawyer Arnold Diaz, following months of negotiations as the bureau got official FBI request for assistance middle of 2012 to locate Dongor.