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  Pastor Quits in Light of Past Battery

By Matt Bender
San Bernardino Sun
April 8, 2002

Yucca Valley — A priest at St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church resigned after diocesan officials learned he had sexually abused boys while a priest in Indianapolis.

In an extraordinary speech to parishoners Sunday, the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the Diocese of San Bernardino, announced that the Rev. Ponciano Ramos, the church's pastor, had resigned, effective the previous day.

"The church was just totally stunned,' parishoner Richard Sroda said Sunday.

Sroda said Ramos had presided over Easter Sunday Masses last week, and that he and other parishoners had no idea that Ramos was about to resign. "Two weeks ago, he wasn't planning on going anywhere,' Sroda said.

Ramos, now 55, was charged with child molestation in connection with a 1992 incident in which he touched the genitals of three boys, the Chicago Tribune reported in Sunday's editions.

In a deal with prosecutors, Ramos pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges of battery and received an 18-month suspended sentence, according to the Tribune.

A prosecutor told the Tribune that there wasn't enough evidence to convict Ramos of molestation, because it wasn't clear that he touched the boys in order to sexually gratify himself or them.

His order, the Society of the Divine Word, first moved him to its mission center in Techny, Ill., then to its Western Province headquarters in Riverside, where he served as provincial treasurer.

From there, he moved to a parish in Murrietta, then to the Yucca Valley parish, where he was parish administrator until Saturday, Lincoln said. Riverside, Murrietta and Yucca Valley are all part of the San Bernardino diocese, which encompasses San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

In an interview Sunday, Lincoln said the diocese received a letter from the Western Province of the Society of the Divine Word in March 1994 that testified to Ramos' good character while omitting key details of the charges against him.

The diocese requires that any priest coming from outside who wants to perform the sacraments must present a letter from his bishop or other superior officer certifying that he is of good moral character and reputation, and that he is qualified to serve effectively as a priest.

"That letter told us that Father Ramos was a priest in good standing and that they heartily endorsed and recommended Father Ramos .

'And that he would enrich our community,' Lincoln said.

"They did say that there had been some legal problems that were resolved, and that there was no sexual misconduct, and that the legal matter was a misdemeanor,' Lincoln said.

The letter from the Society of the Divine Word contained no details about the circumstances of Ramos' arrest or the charges against him, Lincoln said. Had the diocese known what had happened, it would have considered Ramos' actions to constitute "extremely inappropriate conduct,' Lincoln said.

"We had never seen the court documents until the Tribune called,' he said. "We don't question the sincerity of their recommendation, but we would have liked to have had far, far more detail.' A call Sunday afternoon to the Society of the Divine Word's offices in Riverside was not returned.

Ramos, a native of the Philippines, had been parish administrator at St. Mary of the Valley since 1998. He previously was a priest at St. Martha's Catholic Church in Murrietta.

Lincoln said Ramos' tenure in the diocese had been uneventful.

"We've had no problem at all,' he said. "He's a very popular priest.' Lincoln said a diocesan council will meet this week to determine how to appoint a new priest for the parish.

Another priest, the Rev. Luke Tran, also a member of the Society of the Divine Word, has been assisting Ramos on a temporary basis. Lincoln said Tran originally had come to Yucca Valley in order to cover for Ramos during a sabbatical, and that his assignment was not meant to be permanent.

Sroda said he's aware of the child-molestation scandals afflicting the Catholic Church, but that he never expected them to touch the small, remote parish where he worships.

"I expected to see something like this happen somewhere maybe San Bernardino but not this little bitty place up here,' he said.

 
 

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