'We Feel Betrayed by Him'
Inland: a Priest Hired to Baptize Three Children Had Lost the Right to Do So after Admitting to Abuse
By Scott Farwell
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
May 20, 2002
Homeland — After Anita Jimenez's mother died in a car accident and her father dissolved his sorrow in beer, a priest called the 8-year-old girl into his office and said, "Now, you're a child of the church."
The words lodged in her mind, and over the next several years, through an abusive relationship, the loss of her first husband, and persistent poverty, she held on to them, like a handrail, to keep her from falling off the ledge of life.
That faith, she said, was shaken last week, when she learned a priest hired to baptize her children admitted molesting a teen-age boy in the mid-1980s. His authority to perform Roman Catholic sacraments, including baptism, had been revoked.
A relative brought over a newspaper story about the Rev. Rudi Gil, who resigned from St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Lake Elsinore in 1993 after admitting the abuse to church officials.
"It took a few hours for it to sink in," said Jimenez, 39, sitting cross-legged in the corner of her worn brown couch. "It came in my ears, then it went to my head, and then it hit my heart."
Gil would not comment on Jimenez's accusations that he misrepresented himself.
Jimenez hired Gil last October to baptize her three children: Angelina, 9, Madeline, 5, and Ramiro, 3. She paid him $ 140 to perform the ceremony in front of her sky-blue mobile home off a dirt road in Homeland.
She decorated her eucalyptus trees with streamers, strung rosary beads for each of her 25 guests and decorated a pair of picnic tables with angels and doves cut from cardboard and dusted with silver glitter.
"He blessed everything," Jimenez said. "He blessed my property. He blessed my dog. This was important to us, personal." With seashells, Gil scooped holy water out of a pot Jimenez used to store potatoes, and dripped it across the children's heads, one after another. Dressed in a white robe with a traditional Mexican-print stole, he recited the sacrament of baptism. Jimenez and her husband, Ramiro, captured the event with a disposable camera.
"We feel betrayed by him, a little humiliated, violated," Jimenez said. "His hands were dirty ... his hands are contaminated in my eyes. And the worst part is he represents the church."
Not really, according to the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the million-member San Bernardino Diocese. Gil is still officially a priest, but his authority to perform Roman Catholic rituals was revoked after he admitted during counseling that he sexually abused a child, and resigned from his Lake Elsinore parish.
Gil has never been criminally prosecuted, but his name is among those of 26 current and former priests the diocese turned over to police in April for investigation of allegedly sexually abusing children, according to Lincoln.
"Father Gil has no affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church and he is in no way a designated minister of our church," said Lincoln. "His actions are illicit and they are unlawful according to church law."
'Skeletons in the closet'
Gil advertised in a local newspaper in 1995 that he was available to perform baptisms, first communions, quinceaneras and marriages, prompting a letter from former San Bernardino Diocese Bishop Phillip Straling.
"If you do not withdraw the advertisement and cease priestly activities it will be necessary to begin further penal processes," Straling wrote, according to Lincoln, who read from the letter.
"You are asked to accept this letter as an official canonical warning."
Gil would not comment on Straling's admonishments, but in an earlier interview referring to sex abuse and the clergy, he said, "It hurts when these people (church leaders) come off as sanctimonious and pious when we've all made mistakes. We all have skeletons in the closet."
Gil admitted sexually abusing a teen-ager he met in the mid-1980s. He would not describe the type of abuse, but Gil said the child did not appear to be harmed, and "started seeking me out." Gil said when the boy reached adulthood, he presided over his marriage and baptized two of his three children.
After refusing counseling for "sexual identity issues" in 1993, Gil said he moved to Ensenada. But under pressure from Straling and Catholic leaders in Mexico to seek counseling, Gil moved back to Lake Elsinore.
Shaking one's faith
Gil said he took the seal of the church, San Judas Tadeo, when he left.
That stamp, representing the Diocese of Tijuana, is imprinted on three bogus baptismal certificates Jimenez said Gil gave her after the ceremonies.
Gil said he continues to celebrate the sacraments because poor people often do not have the time or opportunity to take the classes required by the church.
That convenience, Jimenez said, is the reason she hired Gil. The church asks for donations, usually between $ 20 and $ 40, for classes for each of the godparents and baptisms are also usually accompanied by a $ 20 donation.
"Somebody like Father Gil makes it easy and convenient for them," said Monsignor Anthony Ferrer of St. James Catholic Church in Perris, who met with Jimenez last week. "He was very popular in the area and he plays on that. He goes to their house, which is nice, so they can have these big private parties."
Ferrer said he knows of more than 20 families who have been victimized by Gil over the years. He said he has warned his congregation from the pulpit and in church bulletins — as recently as last week — that if they hire Gil to perform sacraments they are not valid.
Jimenez's children will need to re-affirm their faith in a ceremony in the church, Ferrer said. "You have to remember,"
Jimenez said, "the people are the body of Christ. People like me, we're the real church."
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