Church: Local Priest Defrocked

By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
April 23, 2010

The island's Catholic Archdiocese late last year removed Guam priest Raymond Cepeda from the priesthood after it investigated "serious allegations" of sexual abuse allegedly committed by him, the church said yesterday in a written statement.

Cepeda had worked in the Santa Barbara and other Catholic churches on Guam. The Archdiocese of Agana said it also reported him to civil authorities.

The church also announced two Capuchin friars with ties to Guam were punished by that religious order because of sexual abuse allegations leveled against them while they were at off-island ministries. The Capuchin Franciscans permanently revoked their ability to engage in public ministry, the order told the local Archdiocese in a letter last month. The Archdiocese yesterday released a copy of that letter.

The church's announcement comes after last month's visit by representatives of the victims advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The group held confidential support group meetings and public events to draw attention to the issue of alleged child sex abuse by clergy on Guam. It also had asked Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron to disclose information about clerics the group says allegedly abused children on Guam.

According to yesterday's statement by the Archdiocese of Agana, it is committed to redoubling its efforts to reach out to victims of sex abuse here and take steps to appropriately punish those who have betrayed their trust.

A policy is in place and will be quickly enforced when the Archdiocese receives reports of improper behavior by its personnel, according to the church statement, and authorities will be immediately notified about allegations of abuse or improper conduct.

The church also plans to conduct a public outreach program during the next few months to let people know how to report abuse, according to the Archdiocese.

The church also asked abuse victims to report their abuse to law enforcement officials, regardless of when it happened. The church also asked victims to call the church's victim assistance program office.

"Again, the Catholic Church does not and will not tolerate any kind of sexual abuse," the Archdiocese said in its statement.

The American Red Cross

The Guam church last commented on the sexual abuse issue in February, when it issued a written statement saying it cooperates with law enforcement when there are allegations of sexual abuse, and that no member of Guam's Catholic clergy ever had been charged with or convicted of sexual abuse. The church at the time did not mention its investigation or the action it had taken against Cepeda months earlier.

The Archdiocese had Cepeda "laicized" in December 2009, according to yesterday's statement, and he no longer is a priest.

The provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscans on March 25 sent the Archbishop a letter, stating action had been taken against friars Randolph Nowack and Andrew Mannetta because of sexual abuse allegations.

The order in 2004 permanently revoked Nowack's ability to engage in public ministry "for reasons relating to allegations that arose elsewhere (not in Guam)," according to the letter by provincial minister John Gallagher. Nowack is living in retirement, the letter states.

Mannetta's ability to engage in public ministry was permanently revoked in 2002 because of allegations brought by someone "who was not a minor at the time of the alleged abuse," at the Archdiocese of Honolulu, the letter states. He left the Capuchins in 2007.

The victim's advocacy group yesterday issued a written statement responding to the Guam church's announcement, criticizing the way the church has handled abuse allegations and accusing the church of placing children at risk.

"While it is always a positive step when church officials come clean about abuse, it's also terribly unfortunate and reckless that it took repeated requests by survivors, outside press reports, hidden church documents and media attention to get any transparency about sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Agana," SNAP western regional director Joelle Casteix said in a written statement.

Casteix questioned why Cepeda was allowed to work at Catholic Social Service, "with unfettered access to children," if the Archdiocese knew there were serious abuse allegations. "Why was no one informed about the risk that Nowack poses? And why were they silent about Mannetta -- a known perpetrator who spent years on Guam?"


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