Archdiocese confesses: priest was defrocked - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Archdiocese confesses: priest was defrocked

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - The Archdiocese of Agana has come clean, admitting Father Raymond Cepeda was removed from the clergy last December amidst allegations of sexual abuse.  A press release issued today confirms a former priest within the Catholic Church in Dededo was laicized, or removed from his status.   

The release states, "At the conclusion of an investigation of serious allegations of abuse...the Archdiocese had Fr. Raymond laicized in December 2009".  Fr. Paul Gofigan replaced Cepeda at the Santa Barbara Church.  Asked if he was aware of why Fr. Raymond left the church," Fr. Paul said, "No, he just it was supposed to be for medical reasons - that was what we were told there was not reason to suspect anything."

It wasn't until the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests questioned the status of Cepeda in the church community that a response, weeks later, was given by the Archdiocese.  The release further stated, "Public concern about abuse with in the Catholic Church both here in Guam and in other parts of the world has risen in recent weeks and in response the Archdiocese of Agana is committed to redoubling its efforts to reach out to victims of sexual abuse in the community and take steps to appropriately punish those who have betrayed their trust."

But Gerhart Schwabb, chairperson of Division of Social Work at the University of Guam, says the church was obligated to form a committee to address child abuse with in the church back in 2002.  "It was a call by American Archbishop Conference that diocese should develop policies to deal with those matters to prevent things to occur," he explained.

Scwabb said he was asked to join the committee, but was never called to a meeting, adding, "Obviously, Fr. Cepeda was laicized in a matter of a day or two.  Last year there must have been efforts and allegations and questioning but the committee has never met, so I question did the archdioceses violate their own procedures and not use the structural mechanism to deal with those issues?"

The release also addresses allegations of sexual abuse by two other former friars of Guam whose past were also questioned by SNAP.  The Archdiocese today released a letter this past March 25 from the Province of St. Mary capuchin order in White Plains, New York.

In it, Reverand John Gallagher divulges that Father Randy Nowak - another Guam priest - was removed from the church in 2004 for abuse allegations that arose in a jurisdiction other than Guam.

According to the letter, Fr. Nowak is now 84 years old and retired.  A second former Guam priest, Andrew Mannetta, was removed from the clergy in 2002 because of abuse allegations, according to the document.

As KUAM News reported, since he was removed as a priest, Cepeda was working at Catholic Social Services but was terminated after he failed to report to work about two weeks ago - the same time SNAP wrote a letter to Archbishop Anthony Apuron, questioning Cepeda's status with the church.  A Dededo parishioner said simply, "I just pray for him and also for those that he allegedly abused that's all the church can do now is continue to pray for its priests who live up to their promises to their vows and the church that's all we can do now."

Although more questions remain for the Archdiocese, today the archbishop declined to be interviewed; we were told that their spokesperson would be handling the media.  In the release, the Archdiocese stated they have reported the case to the civil authorities and can no longer comment on it at this time.

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