City News Service
August 12, 2003
A Catholic priest pleaded innocent today in Fullerton to two felony charges stemming from alleged lewd conduct with a 15-year-old girl.
Gerardo Jarencio Tanilong, 71, has been free on $50,000 bail since his arrest July 14. He was placed on administrative leave from his position at Our Lady of Guadalupe-Delhi in Santa Ana pending the outcome of the case.
After Tanilong entered his plea, Orange County Superior Court Judge Roger Robbins set a pretrial hearing for Sept. 19 and a preliminary hearing for Oct. 1 in Fullerton.
The alleged molestation occurred on a July 12 trip while the girl was in the back seat of the family car with the priest, and the parents were in the front, Susan Kang Schroeder of the Orange County District Attorney's Office said.
The girl's family reported the alleged incident the next day to the Diocese of Orange, which worked with them in contacting authorities, police said.
Tanilong could be sentenced to up to three years and eight months in prison if convicted of the two felonies, said Deputy District Attorney Sheila Hanson.
He also will be removed from the ministry, as is the archdiocese's policy for priests guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor, said Shirl Giacomi, chancellor of the Diocese of Orange.
The priest, who came to the United States from the Philippines, had not been the subject of similar allegations before, Giacomi said.
Outside the courtroom, a supporter of Tanilong, Mabel Suarez, told reporters that parishioners of the Santa Ana church believe the priest is innocent of the charges.
"We do believe in him," Suarez said. "Whatever's happening right now, we believe that he is innocent, and whatever is going on right now, we're just praying for him."
Suarez said parishioners "have loved" him and "known him for so long. We do understand that right now, in our world, things are going on. But whatever's happening right now, we're here to support him, we're here to give our best for him and not only for him (but) for all our Catholic church."
Hanson said the case is in its early stages and the priest's supporters have not heard the evidence.
"Upon initially hearing these type of allegations, I can understand," Hanson said. "It's sometimes difficult for people to accept or understand. Obviously, as the evidence unfolds, I would anticipate there may be a very different reaction, however."
Defense attorney Norberto Reyes said, "We believe that (Tanilong) will be exonerated, and we intend to vigorously defend him in this case."
Tanilong has been with the diocese for 17 years, serving at Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Joachim, St. Boniface, St. Callistus and most recently at Our Lady of Guadalupe-Delhi.
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