Parishioners Pray for Priest's Return
Many Want Father Anthony Garduno Back at St. Edward's Church. but Diocesan Officials Are Not Encouraging

By Jenny Cardenas
Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
April 2, 1994

Parishioners are holding vigils outside St. Edward's Catholic Church this weekend, trying to get back Father Anthony Garduno, although an official said the popular priest will not be returning.

"We ask God to help resolve Father Tony's problems and that he enlighten the church leaders," said Guadalupe Ruiz, a parishioner and lay leader.

Garduno left the church on his own accord in January, after signing a letter acknowledging he had sexual contact with an adult. Sexual contact by priests is not allowed in the Catholic church.

Parishioners like Ruiz say Garduno is not guilty of any impropriety and that he was forced to resign from his post.

Last night, about 50 men, women and children stood in a circle in the parking lot outside the church and held hands during a vigil of prayer and song. They plan another vigil tonight.

Rev. Howard Lincoln, the spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, said the prayers will not bring Garduno back.

"These are well-intentioned, caring people, but there are no circumstances that will lead to Father Garduno going back to St. Edward's," Lincoln said.

Bishop Phillip Straling has made the decision, although a ruling on Garduno's ultimate fate has not been made, Lincoln said.

Garduno continues to meet with diocese officials, he said.

Church members say Garduno is currently living in an apartment in Riverside. They say he is needed to minister to the parish's many Spanish-speaking Catholics. The parish does not have a Hispanic priest or a priest who speaks Spanish now.

The vigils, which follow nightly Masses, are in the spirit of Easter, to help the church and parishioners renew ties, parishioners said.

Ruiz, a parishioner since 1986, held a rosary as he led a prayer in which he said it had been "three horrible months since the news" that Garduno was gone. "We ask that the Holy Spirit open the hearts of the diocesan authorities. "

Even if the vigils do not bring the popular priest back, they demonstrate that there are plenty of parishioners who care about their church, said Javier Ramirez, a long-time member of the church.

"This is also for next time," he said. "So the diocese knows that the next time they make decisions that affect us, hopefully, they'll ask us what we think. "

Since Garduno's departure letters and petitions with thousands of signatures have been turned over to the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, which serves Riverside County.

Ruiz is one of about 50 members of the church who contends that the investigation into Garduno was not thorough enough.

He said diocesan officials have been vague in answering questions. Parishioners want to know how the investigation was conducted, who was interviewed, and how the decision was made to ask him to leave, Ruiz said.

"We have invited them to participate in a dialogue, but it has been of no use. It seems that we are not significant to our (church) leaders," Ruiz wrote in a letter being distributed at the vigils.

"We have tried to be humble and obedient, loyal to our church, but we have gained nothing to date. "

Garduno, called "Father Tony" by many in the parish, was an important link at St. Edward's, the largest parish in the diocese.

Parishioners have said he brought young people back to church and established programs to keep them interested in religion. While tending to the church's Spanish-speaking membership, he built strong ties with the English-speaking community and the elderly, they said.


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