Priest on Leave Suspended for New Affiliation, by Joe Gutierrez, Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA), August 18, 1995
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  Priest on Leave Suspended for New Affiliation

By Joe Gutierrez
Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
August 18, 1995

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino on Thursday suspended a former Corona priest for joining a free-thinking Catholic - but non-Roman - church in Home Gardens as pastor.

Former St. Edward's Church associate pastor the Rev. Anthony Garduno had been on administrative leave with pay for more than a year because of an allegation of sexual misconduct.

Garduno, 37, said he joined the newly formed Our Lady of Tepeyac - which incorporates Native American ritual and belongs to a denomination that allows priests to marry - to get on with his spiritual life. He said he also has dropped a lawsuit he filed last year charging the diocese with slander for its handling of the misconduct claim.

His new church belongs to the All Nations Catholic Diocese of Riverside. It has no affiliation with the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino but celebrates the same services and sacraments.

The new church is renting space from the Samoan First Adventist Church in Home Gardens.

"I'm redirecting my energies. The people need help," Garduno said.

An official with the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino said the church suspended Garduno without pay once it learned that he had taken the new position.

"He can't function as a Roman Catholic priest," said the Rev. Howard Lincoln. "Our diocese finds Father Garduno to be betraying the people in the barrio and the church. He is apparently engaging in actions for which he had no authority to celebrate. " But the diocese is still willing to meet with Garduno to discuss his possible return to the church, Lincoln said.

Garduno was associate pastor at St. Edwards when he was removed from the Corona parish in December, 1993, for allegedly asking a man to strip to show his genitals during a pre-marriage counseling session.

Diocese officials said Garduno acknowledged the contact. But Garduno later filed a lawsuit against the diocese, denying that misconduct occurred and claiming that he was slandered by church officials.

Though Garduno cannot function as a Roman Catholic priest, Lincoln said it was up to the other denomination whether or not to accept him.

That acceptance was granted when members of the All Nations Catholic Diocese of Riverside voted on April 9, Palm Sunday, to let him join as a priest, said the Rev. Basil Elbe, pastor of Saint Brides Celtic Catholic Church in Riverside. St. Brides is a parish in the All Nations Catholic Diocese.

The All Nations Catholic denomination celebrates the same rituals and sacraments Roman Catholics do, but it is different because its parishioners make the decisions on a church's operation and direction, Elbe said. The church also departs from Rome by allowing priests to marry and permitting women to become priests.

In the All Nations Catholic church the bishop is the head of the denomination, unlike the Roman Catholic Church in which the Pope serves as the spiritual leader for Roman Catholics worldwide.

"We respect the Pope in Rome as the Bishop of Rome, but he is the equal to our bishop," Elbe said.

Garduno said he joined the All Nations Catholic Church because he has more freedom and can minister to his parishioners in what they need, because they are the ones making the decisions on what they need.

"I am still there for the people," Garduno said. "We are non-judgmental - that's what the church should represent. "

Garduno said that though he is celebrating outside the Roman Catholic denomination, his Masses are not different from when he was at St. Edwards. But because the parishioners govern how the church is run, they are the ones who tell the priest what they want.

Garduno said members of his church want to incorporate Native American rituals into the Mass and other services.

"We still have a eucharistic prayer, but with a Native American tradition. "

As an example, instead of using incense to cleanse and bless the people, Garduno said, the herb sage is burned at the start of Native American ceremonies to cleanse the soul.

Garduno, who was a popular priest at St. Edwards, said that while he was on administrative leave he continued to receive requests to celebrate Mass. He said he began celebrating Masses in people's homes. Eventually he was doing up to three Masses every Sunday.

When the number of people attending grew to more than 100, the people began looking for a church to accommodate them, said Al Villanuvea, a church member who lives in Claremont.

By the time people contacted and began attending St. Brides, the number had grown to about 150, Villanuvea said.

The people, who were coming from Home Gardens, Ontario, Corona, Santa Ana, Los Angeles and Riverside, like the church because it is non-judgmental, Villanuvea said.

Barbara Moore, who serves as vestry chairwoman for St. Brides, said the church had to expand Sunday. The church was so filled that people often listened to the Mass in the church courtyard.

Garduno petitioned the All Nations Catholic Diocese, asking permission to join it, because he felt he was "finally coming home," Moore said.

Our Lady of Tepeyac, which is named for the mountain in Mexico where, Catholics believe, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a poor Indian in the sixteenth century, was formed when the members decided to form their own parish.

The church has two Masses on Sundays and is planning more, Garduno said.

And though Garduno is now a priest in a different church, he said, his actions are no different from when he was at St. Edwards.

"I will always remain loyal to the Roman Catholic teachings," Garduno said.

 
 

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