Death of Accused Priest Reported
The Rev. Polienato Bernabe Allegedly Abused a Girl While Visiting Gulfport in the Late '70s and Early '80s
By Chris Tisch
St. Petersburg Times [Florida]
April 12, 2006
A Catholic priest from the Philippines who was accused of sexually abusing a girl while visiting a Gulfport church decades ago has reportedly died.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office learned last summer that the Rev. Polienato Bernabe may have died in the Philippines. Prosecutors had issued a warrant for Bernabe's arrest in 2002, but the priest could not be found.
The St. Petersburg Diocese confirmed this week that a diocese in the Philippines told them of Bernabe's death.
"We did get confirmation that he passed away," said Vicki Bedard, a diocese spokeswoman.
Prosecutor Jim Hellickson said the diocese provided his office with a copy of Bernabe's death certificate, which says he died in 2004. Still, prosecutors are trying to independently verify that Bernabe has died, Hellickson said.
In 2002, Melissa M. Price accused Bernabe of sexual abuse that began in 1978 when she was 8 years old. She said Bernabe abused her hundreds of times over eight years while he was a visiting priest at Holy Name Catholic Church in Gulfport.
Bernabe was a member of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dugapan, the Philippines. He served locally from 1975 to 1982 at Holy Name Catholic Church and Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Petersburg.
Prosecutors issued a warrant for Bernabe's arrest in July 2002. Though he owned a home in St. Petersburg, authorities believed he was in the Philippines at the time. His exact whereabouts have been a mystery.
Hellickson said his office had sent paperwork to the U.S. Justice Department in an effort to find Bernabe in the Philippines and bring him to Pinellas County. Authorities could not find him, Hellickson said.
Prosecutors now are working with the FBI and its contacts in the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines in trying to confirm Bernabe's death, Hellickson said.
"I'd just like to confirm it before I drop a charge," he said.
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