6 Months in Jail for Ex-O.c. Priest
A 72-Year-Old Ex-Cleric in Santa Ana Admitted Groping a Teenager While in Her Family's Car
By Claire Luna
Los Angeles Times
April 3, 2004
A former Santa Ana Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Friday to six months in jail for molesting a 15-year-old girl while they rode to Mass in a car with her family.
Gerardo Jarencio Tanilong, 72, who had been assistant to the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Delhi) Church, was removed from the priesthood after admitting to criminal sexual misconduct. He was the first Orange County cleric to be removed since the priest molestation scandal erupted two years ago.
The victim has attended church only once since Tanilong groped her July 12, Deputy Dist. Atty. Sheila Hanson said. Tanilong, the girl, her parents and her grandmother were driving between churches to celebrate Saturday evening Mass.
"Because he was a Catholic priest, she respected, revered and trusted him," the prosecutor told Judge Richard W. Stanford Jr. at North Justice Center in Fullerton before asking him to impose a one-year jail sentence. "He shattered that trust. She no longer feels safe around any Catholic priest."
Tanilong's attorney, Norberto Reyes III, countered that his client should serve only 30 days in jail because of his advanced age, previously unblemished record and quick admission of guilt.
After the girl told her parents about the assault, they reported Tanilong to the church the following day. He immediately admitted what he had done and apologized to the girl, and the Diocese of Orange placed him on paid administrative leave.
Anaheim police arrested Tanilong when he came to the station for an interview two days after the incident.
"He has taken responsibility for his actions," Reyes told the judge. "Justice in this case should be tempered with mercy."
Tanilong, who has been free on $50,000 bail, will start serving his sentence May 17.
His sentence also includes three years of formal probation, after which his attorney indicated he would like to move back to the Philippines, where he started his career in the priesthood 40 years ago. He also must reimburse the victim for counseling costs and register as a sex offender.
"No one, no matter what job title he has, gets a free pass for violating a child," Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a prepared statement after the sentencing.
Tanilong moved to Orange County in 1986 and had been at the Santa Ana church since 1999. Known as "Padre Gerardito," he had also served at Our Lady of Lourdes in Santa Ana, St. Joachim in Costa Mesa, St. Boniface in Anaheim and St. Callistus in Garden Grove during his 17 years with the diocese.
He is one of four Orange County priests to be accused of sexual misconduct in the last year, but the others have not been criminally charged, a spokesman for the diocese said.
His release from the priesthood was the county's first since U.S. dioceses adopted a 2002 policy requiring dismissal of clerics facing any credible allegation of physically abusing minors.
The diocese's only other priest convicted of child molestation, Father Andrew Christian Andersen, had been given a suspended six-year prison sentence after being convicted in 1986 of molesting four altar boys from his Huntington Beach parish.
Andersen was sentenced to six years in state prison in 1990 for violating the terms of his parole after being arrested in New Mexico on suspicion of forcing a teenage boy into his car and attempting to rape him.
Tanilong had been eligible for up to three years eight months in prison after pleading guilty to two felony counts of committing a lewd act upon a child.
Stanford said he chose a relatively short sentence because Tanilong had no prior criminal record and quickly admitted his crime.
"The defendant, unlike many others in similar positions, immediately confessed and immediately expressed remorse," Stanford told the attorneys. "This is an isolated incident in his life, apparently. But because of the position of trust, there must be some serious consequences."
Tanilong remained mostly expressionless during the hearing, but at one point wiped away a tear.
Five friends and family members, including his sister, attended the hearing but declined comment. Reyes also did not speak to reporters.
To maintain the victim's privacy, the girl and her parents did not attend the hearing, Hanson said.
Tanilong's sentence should comfort other victims, she said afterward.
"I don't think he was let off easy," she said.
"A very brave 15-year-old girl came forward and reported a priest, and he was held accountable. Thanks to the courage of this young girl, justice has been done."
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