Church Probes Rape Case Vs. Priest

By Nestor Burgos Jr.
Daily Star [Philippines]
February 24, 2007

Iloilo city - The Archdiocese of Jaro has started its investigation of the case filed against one of its priests vowing to ferret out the truth.

Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said the Church was saddened by the rape complaint and he has directed the Archdiocesan Tribunal to hear the allegations of the 25-year-old woman against Fr. Martin Alarcon.

"I am confident that the tribunal will investigate the matter according to the rules of Canon Law and our Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct of the Clergy," Lagdameo said in a statement read at a press conference by his spokesperson Fr. Excel Jaen.

"At this stage, the tribunal is still proceeding with the case. I am waiting for its conclusion in order that I, as shepherd, may act in the best interest of truth and justice," Lagdameo said.

The alleged victim filed a criminal complaint for two counts of rape against Alarcon on Wednesday before the Iloilo provincial prosecutor's office.

She said alleged that Alarcon raped her twice this month when she tried to end their month-long relationship.

Alarcon has remained inaccessible to reporters since the complaint was filed.

Fr. Philip Niel Antenor-Cruz, head of the Commission on the Clergy, said in the press conference that Alarcon has been advised not to report to his post as assistant parish priest of Carles town in Iloilo but can still hold Mass while the Church investigation is ongoing.

He said investigators of the archdiocese have already talked to Alarcon but he declined to reveal Alarcon's statements citing the priest's right to privacy and the pending criminal complaint. The case will be heard and investigated by an eight-member tribunal called the Standards Group, headed by Judicial Vicar Msgr. Higinio Velarde. The tribunal will be composed of priests and lay people, men and women, Antenor-Cruz said.

The tribunal will hear and examine the evidence submitted by the complainant and Alarcon and will submit findings and recommendations to Lagdameo.

Antenor-Cruz who said they have not set a deadline for the investigation but that it will be completed as soon as possible.

He denied the allegations of the complainant that Church representatives had tried to dissuade her from filing the criminal complaint.

Antenor-Cruz said they talked to the alleged victim last week and offered her legal and medical assistance and counseling. They also assisted her in preparing the complaint to be used in the investigation of the tribunal.

The alleged victim also met with Lagdameo on Feb. 17 and gave him a copy of her complaint against Alarcon.

Lawyer Cynette Lovelyn Mirasol, who assisted the alleged victim in drafting the complaint for the Church investigation, said they explained to her the processes of the investigation and litigation of both the Church and criminal courts. Mirasol said they emphasized to her that it was the option of the alleged victim to file a case in any venue that she prefers.

But Edeljulio Romero, the alleged victim's legal counsel, said that aside from submitting the complaint to Church officials, his client might not cooperate with the Church investigation because she felt that she was pressured not to file the criminal complaint.

Romero said they welcome the investigation of the Church but will proceed with the criminal case against Alarcon. Jaen said this is the first time that a rape case has been filed against a priest of the archdiocese.

"We are saddened by this case; we did not want this to happen, as much as possible we don't one this to happen again. One thing we assure you, we have taken the matter seriously," Jaen said.

Antenor-Cruz also appealed to the media for prudence. "An allegation is an allegation (until it is proven)."*NPB


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