Filipino parishioners were still in shock, weeks after a "well-loved" priest was charged and arrested for rape after supposedly being in a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old altar girl in Pennsylvania.
Fr. Armand Garcia, who was arrested for rape, posted bail on March 5, just when most of the faithful was hopeful changes would be coming within the Catholic Church after a historic summit at the Vatican focusing on clergy abuse.
According to parishioners, Garcia was well loved.
Reports from local Philadelphia news organizations, citing sources familiar with the investigation, stated that Garcia allegedly offered the teen alcohol and marijuana during their encounters over a period of a year in the parish rectory, his living quarters, and other locations. The alleged relationship began at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Roxbery, Pennsylvania in 2014.
Filipinos whom ABS-CBN News were able to speak to said they are in shock with what has happened to the priest.
“Overall, he is a bright priest. I’m impressed, magaling siya. Last year, I couldn’t believe it has happened to him. I really pray for him he will come out innocent,” said Aida Rivera, a Filipino community leader.
But according to the advocacy group SNAP or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a look at the history of the case and how the archdiocese has reacted, already raised red flags.
“There is a lot of discrepancy. One, why the diocese allowed him to stay in ministry when they knew an active investigation had started. This incident happened in 2014. Or 2014 until March of 2018, when he was removed someone knew in that diocese, and this is part of their playbook. And that is deny, deny, deny, until they actually have some charges and substantial information,” said Mike McDonnell, SNAP Philadelphia.
McDonnell added that a closer look at Garcia's record already show a common trend.
“Most priests will be assigned to a parish as assistant, pastor, if you will, parochial assistant or a parochial vicar. Those assignments generally, especially with Garcia, being a young, newly ordained priest, will last at least 4 years because they want to see that priest get experience within the parish family."
"He didn't have that. He started off rocky, and then ended up with a year absence,” he said.
Garcia graduated from the Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines before moving to the US and becoming a priest.
He was once the regional representative of the National Association of Filipino Priests. They have yet to comment on the case of Fr. Garcia.
On March 28, Garcia will appear before a court in Philadelphia. There is no indication yet what plea he will enter.
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