Cebu church probing priest accused of child abuse

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The Archdiocese of Cebu is investigating the parish priest of Aloguinsan town accused of molesting a girl who was part of the church choir. 

A police report dated June 4, 2015 narrated an incident involving a 16-year-old female who was allegedly molested by Fr. Prudencio Operiano of the St. Raphael Archangel Parish Church on Christmas eve, December 24, 2014. 

Together with a witness – the alleged victim’s 15-year-old female friend – the victim filed a complaint at the police station in Aloguinsan on June 4, 2015.

If found guilty, Operiano could be charged with violating Republic Act 7610 or the "Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act."

Monsignor Joseph Tan, spokesperson of the Archdiocese, said that even before local newspaper reports of the incident came out on Saturday, July 18, the church started a probe on the incident as early as the first week of June through vicar general Msgr. Rey Penagunda.

“[Archbishop Jose Palma] wants a fair investigation... we will handle the case carefully considering the (recent) clear guidelines from the Holy See on these incidents. What is important here is that our Church has positively acted on this incident by investigating and seeing to it that the welfare of child be looked into as its primary concern,” said Tan in a telephone interview after meeting with Penagunda.

“Our first concern is the alleged victim,” said Tan who added that the accused priest should be given a fair chance to air his side.

Tan assured the public that the Archdiocese will release updates on the investigation to avoid accusations that the Church will cover up the incident or shield the priest involved.

“First, we assure the public that we are doing everything to address this issue. Second, we are accountable to God. We are accountable to the people. We are accountable to the faithful,” Tan told Rappler. “Thirdly, we need your prayers. Things of this kind needs our prayers so that the truth will come out. And after the truth has come out, there will be healing.”

Not in touch yet with parents, guardians

The parish is in rural Aloguinsan town, located 73.2 kilometers southwest of Cebu City.

While the probe had started last June 4, Tan said that the vicar general had problems getting in touch with the parents or the guardians of the minors. He said they have sent people from the town to ask that the parents talk to the vicar general.

“Until now, we have not been able to speak with any of the parents or the guardian. We also cannot determine whether there is one victim or two victims. What we know is that there is one victim until another newspaper reported there are two,” Tan said. “We ask of the parents or the guardians to please come out and meet with the vicar general of the archdiocese. We are also after the truth here.”

On July 18, 2015, local newspapers SunStar Daily and Cebu Daily News both reported varying accounts of the incident. SunStar's story had one victim while the Cebu Daily News reported two.

Cebu Daily News also reported that the two girls were given instructions by Operiano to get some fruits inside his car parked outside the church. The priest, who was in the car, allegedly invited both girls to his room where the incident occurred. SunStar and radio station dyHP reported a similar story with additional details. 

In an interview with Rappler, Tan said that the Archdiocese will cooperate with authorities in their parallel investigation. The church investigation will be submitted to Palma, who will then forward it to the Vatican.

The accused priest is still serving the parish in Aloguinsan. - Rappler.com