Priest Leaves Church Post after Sex Allegation
The Popular Cleric Is Accused of Engaging in Sexual Misconduct with a Minor Six Years Ago, According to the Diocese of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties
By Susan M. Loux
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
April 21, 1993
Lake Elsinore A popular Lake Elsinore priest and Hispanic rights activist has resigned after being accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor six years ago, according to the Diocese of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.
The Rev. Rudi Gil has resigned his post at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for Bishop Phillip Straling and director of communications for the diocese.
Gil has served in Lake Elsinore four years, he said.
Gil, who is in his mid-40s, was placed on paid administrative leave pending results of an internal review, Lincoln said.
He then chose to resign from the post. His resignation does not indicate guilt, Lincoln said. The priest, who delivered his final Sunday Mass on Easter, declined to comment yesterday because of the pending review.
The diocese declined to identify the alleged victim or the location where the misconduct allegedly took place.
Lincoln said the diocese was made aware of the allegation within the last three months, but he declined to elaborate on how it became informed.
The Riverside County district attorney's office had no record of any criminal complaints filed against Gil.
Lincoln informed congregants during Mass Saturday and Sunday.
"People are disbelieving," said Mary Lou Jensen, business manager at the church of about 2,000 people. "Most people are doing a lot of praying for him, for us, for the parish. It's not an easy thing for him or for us. " Lincoln said tears welled in parishioners' eyes as he read the statement about the allegation and Gil's departure.
"I was expecting gasps, but there was total silence," he said.
"It was the quietest procession of people out of church I have ever seen . ... You could see the shock and sadness in their eyes ...
... It is a very serious matter, and it is anguishing. " Lincoln will meet with parishioners tonight at 7 at the church, 109 S. Lowell St., to talk about their needs so the diocese can find a suitable replacement, he said. It is expected to take at least several months before a permanent replacement is found. Until then, other area priests will fill in, he said.
Gil, a Riverside native, joined the diocese eight years ago. He spent two or three years as associate pastor of St. Edward's Church in Corona, then one year as associate pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Ontario, and nearly four years in Lake Elsinore, Lincoln said.
Lincoln could not verify if Gil was in Corona at the time of the alleged incident.
Parishioners described Gil as a charismatic and caring priest who has been instrumental in recruiting Hispanic churchgoers. The church, with nearly half of its followers Hispanic, has among the largest congregation of Hispanic Catholics in southwest Riverside County.
Gil has helped families immigrating from Mexico in applying for documentation, enrolling their children in school and arranging to learn English, said Jeanie Corral, a church organist who also is a board member with the Lake Elsinore Unified School District.
Soon after Gil's arrival in Lake Elsinore, he removed a fence around the rectory that was frequently kept locked and added patio furniture on church grounds to encourage visitors, she said.
"He doesn't put himself above the people," Corral said. "He is a very loving, giving, caring priest who ministers to people's needs. " For years, Gil has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. Border Patrol, accusing agents of stopping Hispanics indiscriminately during raids. During a patrol sweep in an Ontario barrio in 1989, Gil advised residents that agents had no right to detain them without probable cause.
In 1991, agents pulled over Gil and two friends as they drove home from a movie in Temecula. The three were detained for nearly an hour after Gil refused to identify himself. He said it was unfair to be stopped when he and his friends had not broken any law. At the time, he said some of his parishioners complained of being stopped two or three times a day by agents.
His followers are not abandoning him now.
"In this country, we are innocent until proven guilty," said longtime church member Phyllis Cionni. "A serious charge has been levied. Until it is proven or disproven, I'm going to keep an open mind. " Pat "Granny" Lovitt, a church member who helped start a soup kitchen at the church, said she thought it was wrong for the diocese to make the announcement before it had drawn a conclusion.
"I don't think they should remove him from his post until he has been found guilty of something," she said.
The diocese decided "it is best to be forthright with people," Lincoln said. "Once you tell the truth, it is fairest to the parish and to the priest rather than having rumors and speculation abound . ... The church has been criticized so much in the past for ducking in the bushes and not facing these matters. It's not how we're going to do this. Our policy is going to be to confront these matters and not just hide our heads in the sand. " The Rev. Robert Buchanan of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Corona said yesterday he was instructed by his superiors not to say anything about Gil. He has not announced anything in church.
The news took longtime parishioners by surprise.
"I'm stunned. I'm shaking. I can't believe it. And I don't believe it," said Rachel Galvez of Corona, a former nun and for many years a volunteer in the soup kitchen and thrift shop operated by St. Edward's. "I knew the father very well and he is a wonderful priest. " "This is going to make me cry," said Virginia Coriddi of Corona, who was secretary at the church in the mid-1980s and remembered that Gil took the time to serve her cappuccino each afternoon.
"I can't believe this," she said.
Maria Navarro, who was in charge of youth religious programs at St. Edward's about the same time Gil was associate pastor there, said: "He was a very gentle person. " Navarro said the only thing that people ever questioned was his sudden departure from the parish about six years ago.
"He was here, then he was not," Navarro said. "They gave no reason for his leaving. " But Gil's abrupt departure did not bar him from St. Edward's, Navarro said. Gil celebrated a wedding Mass at St. Edward's several months ago, she said.
"He never disappeared. He wasn't in hiding," Navarro said.
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