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  Priest Faulted in Fund Raising
Misdeeds in LA Mirror Those Cited in Dismissal of Predecessor in Frisco

By Brooks Egerton begerton@dallasnews.com
The Dallas Morning News [Dallas Texas]
May 25, 2003

Dallas Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann has, after weeks of protest by parishioners, gone public with his reason for firing a popular Frisco priest: that the Rev. Armando Beltran repeatedly violated orders to get permission for fund raising.

But the priest recently named to replace him was similarly disobedient to Los Angeles church officials, documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News show. They chastised the Rev. Ernesto Villaroya for operating an unauthorized ministry for personal gain and invalidated marriages he performed.

These revelations follow widely publicized reports that Monsignor Villaroya had been accused of raping a nun 20 years ago and had admitted fathering her child. He declined to comment for this story.

Bishop Grahmann and his aides have spent the past week trying to calm the storm over Monsignor Villaroya's reinstatement to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Frisco. They have said he deserves forgiveness because they believe the sex was consensual, it was a long time ago and he has behaved well ever since.

Last week, the bishop's top aide, Chancellor Mary Edlund, told The News that the priest's more recent problems in the Los Angeles Archdiocese occurred because he "did not understand the protocol of the archdiocese" and were merely an administrative infraction.

After being shown Ms. Edlund's written statement, Los Angeles Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg late Friday released three letters that a top archdiocese official sent to Monsignor Villaroya in the 1990s. Each one asked him to return to his native country, the Philippines.

"It has once again come to my attention that you are ... continuing to perform sacramental liturgies without holding faculties," a 1993 letter stated. "The marriages you perform without benefit of those faculties are rendered invalid, and the harm being done as a result to unsuspecting families ... appears to be great.

"It would seem that you have decided to follow an independent course for your own material gain, without concern for the rights and needs of members of the Catholic Church in Los Angeles."

Monsignor Villaroya said he could not comment without permission from Ms. Edlund. She did not respond to requests for comment on the correspondence, which Mr. Tamberg said he also faxed to the Dallas Diocese on Friday.

Mr. Tamberg said the archdiocese would not discuss its experiences with Monsignor Villaroya.

Tenure in California

A parishioner who knew Monsignor Villaroya in the suburb of Carson, Calif., said he worked as a "guest priest" at St. Philomena Church for years before the first warning letter was sent, in 1991. The parishioner, Mely Cerame, said he also was consecrating homes and "collecting money, which [the head pastor] was not aware of," she said. "My home was one of those he blessed."

Monsignor Villaroya also "would call you on birthdays and say, 'I have included you in my Masses today.' That implied that you're obligated to give a little donation," Ms. Cerame said.

In an e-mail sent before the letters were released, Ms. Edlund said Monsignor Villaroya did not seek permission to serve in Los Angeles because he had moved there to care for his ailing parents. The last letter, from 1995, shows that he ultimately did seek an assignment - and was rejected.

"This decision is based on testimony of priest leaders in the Filipino community ... as well as past discussions with Cardinal [Roger] Mahony and the Archdiocesan Priests' Personnel Board," the letter stated.

Dallas Diocese officials did not ask the Los Angeles Archdiocese for information before hiring him, Bishop Grahmann's aides have said. They said they relied on an assurance from his home diocese of Masbate in the Philippines that he was a priest in good standing.

And "when we recently learned of LA's communication to Fr. Villaroya, he already had a history with the Dallas Diocese which was a good one," Ms. Edlund's e-mail said.

At the time the Dallas Diocese hired him, in 1996, Monsignor Villaroya apparently had not worked officially as a priest in 12 years. A top Masbate Diocese official recently told The News that his diocese never investigated the circumstances of his accuser's pregnancy, during which the priest left the Philippines. The accuser has said he departed after pressing her to have an abortion.

Mr. Tamberg, the Los Angeles Archdiocese spokesman, said the Dallas Diocese has not sought information about Monsignor Villaroya since the accuser sued the priest and church leaders last year. The suit led to his removal from an Ennis parish last summer.

After the suit was recently dismissed before evidence was heard, Monsignor Villaroya was reassigned to St. Francis of Assisi. That decision has touched off further controversy among parishioners who were already angry over the firing of their previous associate pastor, Father Beltran.

The predecessor

For three months, Hispanic parishioners have been asking why the bishop removed Father Beltran and sent him home to South America. They got no answers until the priest went on nationwide radio last week in Colombia to say that Dallas church leaders had unjustly accused him of fund-raising improprieties.

Ms. Edlund then provided a written statement saying that the head pastor in Frisco, the Rev. Leon Duesman, "had spoken to Father Beltran on at least six occasions regarding his fund-raising activities and solicitation of funds from parishioners."

Those conversations led to a September 2002 agreement requiring the priest to get permission for solicitations. An excerpt from his termination letter says he was accused of further violations, such as seeking help for new church construction in Colombia.

"Such solicitations exploit the benevolence of the people of the parish who feel obliged to accommodate the requests of a priest," states the excerpt, which Ms. Edlund released. "Further, the violations of a signed agreement have torn asunder the essential trust needed" between Father Beltran and Monsignor Duesman.

Father Beltran said one accusation was that he had asked his Frisco parishioners for a plane ticket to vacation in South America. "That's a lie," he told Radio Caracol, making his first public comment on the controversy. "I never sought money for that."

Instead, Father Beltran said, parishioners surprised him with the ticket as a Father's Day gift last year and showered him with presents on his birthday.

Edgar Villalobos, a leader of Frisco parishioners who have protested Father Beltran's removal and Monsignor Villaroya's reassignment, said that parishioners freely gave gifts.

He said Monsignor Duesman seemed threatened by the popularity of Father Beltran, who had brought in hundreds of new Hispanic worshippers to the church.

Monsignor Duesman has declined to comment. He and Ms. Edlund met Friday with several of the parishioners who organized a protest at the church last Sunday and who have called on Bishop Grahmann to resign.

The parishioners said they agreed to quit protesting while officials determine, over the next couple of weeks, what to do. One option being discussed is a parish vote on whether Monsignor Villaroya should stay at St. Francis.

Monsignor Villaroya did not celebrate the Spanish-language Mass as planned last Sunday. He will not celebrate it again this week, Ms. Edlund said in her e-mail, "so that he can focus on contacting and meeting with parishioners so they can get to know him."

Woman responds

In the latest edition of the Dallas Diocese's newspaper, Monsignor Villaroya said the woman who accused him of rape tried to enlist him in a scheme to extort millions of dollars from the Catholic Church.

The priest again denied raping Sylvia Martinez Arambulo but admitted fathering her son. He told Texas Catholic that they had two sexual encounters in the early 1980s, when both were living in the Philippines.

Monsignor Villaroya said he has since learned Ms. Arambulo might have already left the Sisters of Charity when he first met her. "She decided to be a Baptist, even though she wore her habit still," he said.

The two met again in Southern California last year to discuss child support. That, the priest said, is when she tried to enlist his help in a lawsuit against church leaders and offered him a $250,000 share of the proceeds.

Ms. Arambulo scoffed at the allegations. She said that no one from the Dallas Diocese or its newspaper has ever asked to speak with her.

"He's like a man in quicksand," she said of Monsignor Villaroya. "The more he moves, the more he goes down."

Ms. Arambulo moved to Southern California in the mid-1990s with her son and the man she married after leaving her religious order.

She has said she began a child-support action - which is still pending - but lost track of Monsignor Villaroya.

Last year, she tracked him down, got him to sign a paternity affidavit and had him meet their son for the first time.

Then Ms. Arambulo filed a lawsuit accusing him of rape and alleging that diocesan leaders in Dallas, Los Angeles and Masbate had conspired to hide him. A judge dismissed the case, saying that she had waited too long to sue and lacked evidence of wrongdoing by the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

He also fined her attorney and wrote, according to California news accounts, that the suit apparently "was filed to obtain publicity and not for any proper purpose."

Ms. Edlund has questioned why Ms. Arambulo and her family took the priest into their California home last summer, saying that "a rape victim doesn't invite an alleged rapist" to visit.

Ms. Arambulo said she welcomed Monsignor Villaroya into her home because she wanted her son to know his father - and wanted the father to start paying for the consequences of his actions.

 
 

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