Priest Gets OK to Work
Inland: The Bishop Says the Rev. Ponciano Ramos May Do Administrative Tasks at a Retreat Center
By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside, CA]
June 7, 2003
A Yucca Valley priest who resigned last year after Inland church leaders learned that he had inappropriately touched three boys in 1993 will be allowed to work at a Riverside seminary.
The Diocese of San Bernardino said Friday that the Rev. Ponciano Ramos will start working July 1 at the Divine Word Retreat Center, operated by the religious order to which Ramos belongs.
For now Ramos will handle administrative duties, and he will be barred from engaging in public sacraments, such as saying Mass, hearing confessions or presiding at weddings, baptisms or funerals, the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the diocese, said by telephone Friday.
Ramos may gradually be allowed to return to public ministry, Lincoln said.
Ramos resigned in April 2002 after diocese officials learned that he had been convicted of three misdemeanor battery charges in Indiana. Court records show that after stink bombs were set off at a school, Ramos had conducted a search, including putting his hand into the underwear of three boys, but prosecutors concluded that the touching had not been sexual. Bishop Gerald Barnes' decision to permit Ramos to return to work in the diocese comes after months of meetings with the priest and his superiors at the Society of the Divine Word.
After he resigned, Ramos underwent a psychological evaluation and took part in a four-month pastoral training course.
"Based on the extensive review of the case during the past year, our diocese is confident of Father Ramos' suitability for this appointment," Lincoln said.
Since his resignation as pastor of St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church in Yucca Valley, Ramos has spent most of the past year living at the retreat center in the La Sierra area of Riverside.
The 55-year-old priest could not be reached for comment Friday, and calls to the center went unanswered.
In a statement issued through Lincoln, Ramos said he was pleased and grateful to Bishop Barnes for his decision.
A native of the Philippines, Ramos served at St. Martha Catholic Church in Murrieta as a parochial vicar from 1996 to 1998 before taking over the Yucca Valley parish.
He resigned after the diocese learned that he had been convicted in 1993 of the three misdemeanor battery charges in Indiana.
Stink bomb investigation
Ramos was director of St. Rita Catholic School in Indianapolis when three stink bombs were set off on campus in April 1992, according to court documents.
While investigating, Ramos called 13 seventh- and eighth-grade boys individually into the class where he questioned and searched them, the court documents state.
Three boys, ages 13 to 14, accused Ramos of reaching inside their underwear as part of the searches. "The touching that occurred during the course of these was done in a rude, insolent and angry manner," according to a plea agreement in the case.
Ramos pleaded guilty to the battery charges as part of that deal. In return, Indiana prosecutors dropped three felony counts of child molestation against him.
"The State recognizes that the touching was not done by the defendant with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of Ponciano M. Ramos," prosecutors wrote in the agreement signed by Ramos.
Ramos received a six-month suspended sentence and was placed on 18 months' probation, according to the agreement.
"He exhibited extremely poor judgment," Lincoln said of Ramos' conduct. "Boundaries were crossed which were totally inappropriate, but he was not involved in a case of sexual child abuse. He was completely cleared on any allegations in that area."
San Bernardino's diocesan review committee, a panel of lay people and priests that reviews allegations of misconduct made against Inland priests, unanimously advised Barnes to reinstate Ramos, Lincoln said.
The Divine Word complex serves as a retirement home for the religious order, but it is also used by high school students for overnight retreats.
Lincoln said Ramos is not believed to be a threat, given prosecutors' conclusions in Indiana and the recent testing that the priest underwent.
Ramos' reinstatement will be announced this weekend at St. Mary's.
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