Friday, December 02, 2005

The Hireling Report #32

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Bishop Letting Priest Work
He Has Admitted To Fathering Child; Diocese Cites Lawsuit Dismissal

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
May 14, 2003

Dallas Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann has reinstated a priest who admitted fathering a child by a nun he was accused of raping and who disobeyed another bishop's orders not to exercise his ministry.

Diocesan officials explained the move by citing the dismissal of a lawsuit against the Rev. Ernesto C. Villaroya and U.S. church officials, who were accused of harboring the Filipino in California and Texas.

A California judge ruled that the accuser had waited too long to sue, ending the case before evidence could be heard. The defendants denied wrongdoing.

The Dallas Diocese had suspended Monsignor Villaroya from his Ennis parish after Sylvia Abano Martinez Arambulo filed suit last summer. At the time, diocesan officials said he acknowledged having sex with her 20 years ago in the Philippines.

The diocese announced Monsignor Villaroya's reassignment, to St. Francis of Assisi parish in Frisco, in the current issue of its newspaper. The Texas Catholic article states that "paternity has not been determined," without mentioning that the priest has signed a sworn statement admitting that he is the biological father of Ms. Arambulo's son.

Bronson Havard, the newspaper's editor and bishop's spokesman, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Nor did Monsignor Villaroya, who started work in Frisco last weekend.

Ann Blackman, a member of the Collin County parish's finance council, said she didn't know enough about the priest to judge him. She said the fast-growing congregation had been "in desperate need" of a second priest, especially a Spanish speaker such as Monsignor Villaroya.

Ms. Blackman said she was glad to see the Texas Catholic report on the reassignment.

"The diocese, from what I've seen, hasn't always been so forthcoming," she said. "That was a good sign in terms of open communication."

1983 pregnancy

Ms. Arambulo, who left her religious order and now lives in the Los Angeles area, said she was not surprised to hear about developments in Dallas.

"That is how dirty they are," she said of church officials.

Ms. Arambulo said she was shunned after becoming pregnant in 1983 and found support only from Baptist missionaries in her overwhelmingly Catholic home country. She said she did not report the matter to police, out of shame and fear that she would not be believed.

Monsignor Villaroya, Ms. Arambulo said, pressured her to have an abortion and left the area before she gave birth. She later married a man who helped her raise her son.

As the boy approached adolescence and began asking to meet his birth father, the family learned that the priest was in Southern California. They moved there in the mid-1990s. Ms. Arambulo said she began pressing a child-support claim through county government in 1996. Around that time, Monsignor Villaroya moved to the Dallas Diocese.

Diocesan chancellor Mary Edlund told the Texas Catholic that Monsignor Villaroya "has been serving here for 15 years without incident." Last year, however, she said he had come here in 1996, after living in California and caring for his elderly parents.

Ms. Arambulo said she figured out he was in Texas last year and persuaded him to sign a paternity affidavit and to come meet his son. A handwritten note on that document says that "I will be giving the amount of $ 150 or more monthly to my son Jonathan and I will help too in his studies." It is signed "Ernesto C. Villaroya, father."

The child-support case against the priest is pending in a California court, with a hearing set for Friday. Ms. Arambulo said an attorney representing the Los Angeles County child-support department recently urged her to settle the matter for $ 1,000 and to sign two documents: one agreeing not to accuse the church further and the other stating that Monsignor Villaroya is not the boy's father.

"They want me to tell a lie," Ms. Arambulo said. Child-support department officials did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The Texas Catholic article makes no mention of problems Monsignor Villaroya had in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, where he lacked permission to function as a priest but did so anyway. Archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg said the priest was sent three "cease and desist" letters, in 1991, 1993 and 1995, after other clerics expressed concern that he was working in a parish.

Monsignor Villaroya initially failed to seek permission to serve, Mr. Tamberg said, and was rejected when he asked later.

"When someone breaks the rules that many times and then says, 'Give me faculties,' we say no," the spokesman said.

In an interview several months ago, Mr. Havard said that Dallas diocesan officials did not contact their Los Angeles counterparts before accepting Monsignor Villaroya. Instead, the spokesman said, they relied on assurances from the priest's original diocese in the Philippines, Masbate, that he was in good standing there.

"There's none of this casual stuff going on now," Mr. Havard said. "The church has learned the hard way. Now we do a lot more checking."

No investigation

The Rev. Quintin Feraren Jr., a top aide to the Masbate bishop, said church officials in the Philippines never investigated the circumstances surrounding Ms. Arambulo's pregnancy.

"We didn't give much attention to this," he said. "The allegation [of rape] was without basis."

Monsignor Feraren said Monsignor Villaroya moved to California in the 1980s with permission from his bishop. He said he didn't know why the priest left the Philippines, but it was "not to escape anything."

Monsignor Villaroya's reassignment was approved by the Dallas Diocese's personnel board, which includes priests and lay people. "After a thorough review of the case from the standpoint of his ability and willingness to serve, the board found no impediment that would prevent him from serving under church law," Ms. Edlund told the Texas Catholic.

The priest will serve in Frisco under the supervision of the Rev. Leon Duesman, the paper said.

And he "will undergo counseling and further evaluation," it added. "He also has undergone a background check as required of all priests."

Mr. Tamberg said Dallas church officials did not contact the Los Angeles Archdiocese as part of that process.


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