Accused Priest Will Remain
But Diocese Says It Will Monitor Whether Frisco Parish Accepts Him

By Brooks Egerton and Lesley Tellez
The Dallas Morning News [Dallas,Texas]
May 19, 2003

FRISCO - Dallas Diocese officials said Sunday that a priest accused of raping a nun 20 years ago and fathering her child will stay at a Frisco church, but officials will continue to monitor whether parishioners accept him.

Mary Edlund, chancellor of the Dallas Diocese, said that if parishioners don't accept the Rev. Ernesto C. Villaroya, he won't stay. She acknowledged that the diocese should have told parishioners about their new priest's past.

During a nearly two-hour meeting with parishioners Sunday at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco, Ms. Edlund urged hundreds of parishioners to forgive Monsignor Villaroya, who was recently reassigned to the church.

"We could have had - should have had - a session like this prior to his appointment so you could have known," she said.

Monsignor Villaroya failed to show up for Mass on Sunday after parishioners demonstrated outside the church, carrying signs that called him a rapist and that demanded Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann resign.

Monsignor Villaroya, in his first interview about the matter, said he would quit if Bishop Grahmann asked him to. He denied allegations that he raped a nun 20 years ago in their home country, the Philippines, and backed away from his previous sworn admission that he fathered her child.

"There was some intimidation" involved in getting his signature on a paternity affidavit he signed last year, Monsignor Villaroya said. He would not elaborate but did say he wants to have DNA testing done.

Told that he closely resembles 18-year-old Jonathan Arambulo, the priest laughed and said, "Well, no problem, as they say." He would not say whether he believes the youth is his son.

Ms. Edlund, Bishop Grahmann's top aide, arrived at the priest's living quarters during the brief interview and declined to comment on the situation.

Jonathan Arambulo's mother, Sylvia Abano Martinez Arambulo, said she is willing to have DNA testing done and has been trying for years simply to get Monsignor Villaroya to pay for the consequences of his acts. She is pressing a child-support case in Los Angeles County, where she and Jonathan live.

Last summer, Ms. Arambulo also filed a lawsuit that formalized the rape accusation and alleged that church leaders in Los Angeles and Dallas had harbored the priest. He left the Philippines for California after unsuccessfully pressing her to have an abortion and came to Texas after she discovered where he was, she has said.

Bishop Grahmann removed Monsignor Villaroya from his Ennis parish after the suit was filed. Its recent dismissal paved the way for his reinstatement this month in Frisco at fast-growing St. Francis of Assisi Church, the bishop's aides have said.

All the defendants denied wrongdoing. A judge ruled that Ms. Arambulo had waited too long to sue, ending the case before evidence could be heard.

Monsignor Villaroya is supposed to be succeeding the Rev. Armando Beltran as associate pastor in charge of Spanish-language worship at St. Francis. Bishop Grahmann removed Father Beltran so abruptly three months ago that the popular priest was not allowed to say goodbye to the hundreds of Hispanics he had brought into the church over the previous year.

The bishop and other church officials have refused to answer questions about why Father Beltran was sent back to his home diocese in Colombia. He has not responded to inquiries.

Protesters steadfast

Anger over his dismissal led some of his followers to organize in protest even before Monsignor Villaroya arrived. Now organizers say they are even more determined to bring about change.

"The majority don't support him," Jorge Mesta of Prosper said after the meeting ended. "We've already rejected him."

About two dozen demonstrators carried signs before Sunday services, most of which aimed at Bishop Grahmann, and many more people wore buttons calling for Father Beltran's return.

"Obey Pope's Wishes," one sign said. "Resign." That's a reference to the Vatican's appointment, more than three years ago, of a successor to Bishop Grahmann, Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante.

Bishop Grahmann has said he plans to stay in office until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75, in about three years. Most coadjutorships last a year or less, and Bishop Galante recently said he expects to leave Dallas soon.

Many parishioners leaving the English-language Mass passed by demonstrators without commenting. One woman, who would not give her name, said "Shame on you" repeatedly.

Another member of the congregation, Elizabeth Vela, said she feared that the controversy would split whites and Hispanics. And demonstrators, she suggested, were "casting a stone" without sufficient information.

But she also said that Monsignor Villaroya and other church officials aren't helping matters by staying quiet. And she said she agreed with protesters on one point: the need for the bishop's resignation. "It would help the healing," Ms. Vela said.

Head pastor responds

Some protesters focused their anger on the head pastor at St. Francis, the Rev. Leon Duesman, and accused him of driving away Father Beltran. Several confronted him in the sacristy Sunday as he hurriedly prepared to fill in for Monsignor Villaroya.

"You don't give us nothing," protester Lourdes Sandoval shouted. Monsignor Duesman brushed past her and headed toward the altar; he later declined to speak with a reporter.

The confrontation led one parishioner, Frisco City Council member Matt Lafata, to summon police as a precautionary measure.

Earlier, during the English-language Mass, Monsignor Duesman spoke about the protesters outside. He made it clear that all the key decisions are Bishop Grahmann's, Mr. Lafata said. "He said, 'I'm sitting on the sidelines like all of you,' " Mr. Lafata said.

Mr. Lafata said Catholic Church leaders should learn from successful government officials that silence isn't golden.

"Everybody has the right to protest and to be told what's happening," he said.



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