Father, Wherefore Art Thou? Former New Mexico Priest Was Sent to the Philippines in the 1970s

By L. Brendan
Santa Fe Reporter
July 7, 2004

Manuel Perez Maramba's life has been a constant flux between music and religion. His storied career as a concert pianist and composer took him from his native Philippines across the US, including a performance at Carnegie Hall when he was only 19.

However, it is Maramba's former role as a Catholic priest that may now tarnish his international image. A lawsuit filed last month claims Maramba repeatedly molested an 11-year-old boy while he was the priest at St. Genoveve Church in Las Cruces from 1976-78. Maramba worked as musician-in-residence at St. John's College in Santa Fe from 1974-76.

The alleged victim and his parents, who are not identified by name in the lawsuit, sued Maramba and the Diocese of El Paso. The suit was filed in district court in Santa Fe because the diocese is no longer incorporated or registered in New Mexico. The Diocese of El Paso had jurisdiction over Catholic churches in southern New Mexico until the Diocese of Las Cruces was created in 1983.

Tom Gilstrap Jr., an attorney representing the Las Cruces family who filed the suit, says Maramba was recalled to the Philippines in the late 1970s after allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced.

"Typical of pedophile priests, he took boys camping and was a boys' group leader," Gilstrap alleges. "We don't know whether it was discovered by the diocese. We think the move back to the Philippines was as a result of these types of incidents."

Gilstrap says the District Attorney's Office in Las Cruces is investigating Maramba and may seek his extradition back to the US if criminal charges are filed. District Attorney Susana Martinez in Las Cruces couldn't be reached for comment.

In a four-part series last month, The Dallas Morning News reported Catholic priests have been moved to other countries to avoid prosecution for sexual offenses, often with the help of Catholic church officials.

Frank Ainsa, an attorney representing the Diocese of El Paso, says Maramba was recalled to the Philippines in 1978 by his superior at a Benedictine monastery because he was needed there. Ainsa says he doesn't know of any other suits alleging Maramba molested other children in Las Cruces. "There could be others out there, but I'm certainly not aware of them," Ainsa says. "I'm in the early stages of investigating this case."

The lawsuit claims the Las Cruces boy, who is now a man in his late 30s, has lost earnings and received psychological treatment because of the alleged molestation by Maramba. "It's been devastating to his life," Gilstrap says. "It creates a lot of confusion, a lot of turmoil, a lot of havoc in the individual."

Maramba couldn't be reached for comment by SFR. He is still a Benedictine monk with the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat in the Philippines, where he also is a faculty member at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music. Maramba has composed orchestral and ballet works and several operas, including The Blessed Lord--Ukon Takayama, which premiered last year in Japan and the Philippines.


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