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  News of Priest's 1998 Conviction Saddens Church
San Jose Congregation Wasn't Told of Offense

By Jessie Mangaliman
San Jose Mercury News
March 27, 2002

More than anger or accusations, sorrow has swept East San Jose's Most Holy Trinity Church this week as parishioners begin to deal with the painful reality that a former popular priest is a convicted sex offender.

Revelations that former pastor Angel Crisostomo Mariano, 46, is one of six Jesuits caught up in the Roman Catholic Church's latest sexual abuse scandal has prompted new questions about Mariano's sudden and unexplained departure from the church almost four years ago.

Unlike the accusations surrounding other Jesuits, Mariano's conviction is in a separate sexual abuse case. Still, it has cut deeply across this congregation of 4,500 families who entrusted him with their spiritual care.

Many at the church only now are learning that Mariano left Holy Trinity in September 1998 after being arrested for having sex with a 17-year-old boy he met in an Internet chat room. He was convicted six months later on two felony counts of oral copulation with a minor and spent five months in Santa Clara County Jail.

"Many people have asked me why this is coming up now, and that's something we'll try to answer," said the Rev. Kevin Ballard, the church pastor who came to the church after Mariano left. "We do need to discuss this now with as much frankness as we can."

In the coming weeks, Ballard said, he plans to call a public meeting at the church to discuss Mariano's case. The case came to light only this week, following published accounts of allegations that two mentally retarded men were sexually abused by members of the clergy at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos.

Mariano lived for a short time at the center but has not been accused in civil or criminal court of molesting the men. However, in a deposition, the sister of one of the victims said her brother told of being abused by a man named "Angel."

'Acting out'

Jesuit officials are taking pains to distinguish between Mariano's past and other allegations of sexual abuse. The Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, head of the California Province of the Society of Jesus, said officials did not think it was necessary to tell the congregation at Holy Trinity about Mariano's arrest and conviction.

"This was a situation of acting out. It did not involve parishioners. It did not involve presenting himself as a priest," he said Tuesday. "There was no evidence that anyone at Most Holy Trinity had been harmed in any way."

Nonetheless, the church recommended Mariano undergo psychiatric treatment for six months at a private institute for sex offenders in Silver Spring, Md., according to court documents and an interview with Smolich.

Mariano is now living at a Jesuit residence in the San Jose area under the supervision of church officials, Smolich said.

United congregation

During his four years at the church, Mariano, a native of the Philippines, had come to endear himself to many in the congregation. His ability to speak fluent Spanish and Tagalog allowed him easy movement between cultures among the church's congregation, which is comprised primarily of Filipinos, Mexicans and Vietnamese.

Many church members credited him with uniting the congregation.

At the church parking lot this week, Sami Villoria, 55, a longtime church usher, made last-minute preparations for a Philippine Easter celebration, salubong, on Sunday. Mariano started the tradition at the church, he said.

"I miss Father Angel, and I wish I can talk to him now and ask him how he is," Villoria said. "I've read what the papers have reported. I've heard the rumors. I don't know what to believe."

Anguish

Mariano's unexplained departure caused dozens of families to leave the parish and attend other churches, Villoria and other church members said. And there were rumors that Mariano had left the priesthood or returned to his native Philippines.

The church offered no official explanation. And many members didn't learn the reason for Mariano's departure until Palm Sunday, when details of Mariano's 1998 arrest were revealed in published reports.

"I was standing behind someone at the church and I asked, 'What's the long face for?' And that's when I learned first," said longtime church deacon Vicente Perez Sr. "No one is angry. There is no room for condemnation. We practice what we preach."

Many who were close to Mariano are reliving the anguish they felt at the time Mariano left.

"If what we hear is true, I feel sorry for him. He was a good priest," said Laling Vidal, 76, a longtime member of the church.

And, despite a sense of disappointment, some church members say that a public disclosure was not needed.

"The people closest to him might be owed explanations," said Julie Aldrich, a church member. "But I don't think it was necessary to give a lot of detail."

 
 

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