In Court, Roxborough Woman Recounts Alleged Rape by Priest Also Charged with Making Sex Tapes
By Jeremy Roebuck
May 16, 2019
As a teenager committed to her Roman Catholic faith, she thought she was doing everything right.
She volunteered as an altar server at her Roxborough parish. She sang in the choir and worked nights and weekends as a fill-in secretary at the church office.
And even when, at 16, she gave in to the sexual advances of her priest — the Rev. Armand Garcia — she said she believed him when he told her that God had put him in her life to take care of her.
Then came the time she refused.
“He came up from behind me and pushed me up against a wall. He held my arms down and spread my legs apart,” the now-21-year-old testified in a Philadelphia courtroom Thursday. “I was wearing my school uniform. I didn’t know what to do.”
That alleged 2014 assault in the rectory of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish now forms the basis of one of the first criminal prosecutions of an area priest since the Archdiocese of Philadelphia recommitted to cracking down on sexual offenses after a scathing 2011 grand jury investigation that led to charges against six clerics.
The testimony of the woman — offered publicly for the first time Thursday — serves as the backbone of the government’s case. The Inquirer is withholding her name because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault.
Her composed and self-assured account persuaded Municipal Court Judge Wendy L. Pew to hold Garcia for trial on charges including rape, sexual assault, and corruption of a minor.
Prosecutors also have charged the 50-year-old priest with filming a sex act involving a child — counts tied to cell-phone video his accuser said he shot of their encounters on at least two occasions.
“He said he wanted to have something to remember it by,” the woman recalled. “I could only watch a few minutes. I was very uncomfortable.”
Garcia, who spent much of Thursday’s hearing with his head bowed and hands clenched in his lap, has denied the charges.
But unlike many of the cases of sexual misconduct involving priests that have begun a new wave of the global clergy abuse crisis in the last year, Garcia’s alleged assault was preceded by what his lawyer, William J. Brennan, described Thursday as a “long-standing consensual sexual relationship” with his accuser.
In court, Brennan questioned why — after his client had taken pains to limit their liaisons to closed parish offices, secluded church basements, and even his personal home in Brookhaven, Delaware County — the priest would run the risk of raping her in a location where he might be easily caught.
“You’re saying he threw you up against a wall in the main living space, where any of the other priests could walk through at any time and see him assaulting you?” he asked the accuser in cross-examination.
But the woman stuck to her story and challenged the notion that her relationship with Garcia — a man nearly three decades her senior — could have been consensual.
“He’d known me since the eighth grade,” she said. “He knew my father very well.”