A Roman Catholic bishop on Thursday condemned a Philippines-born priest charged with sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl two decades ago in the United States, saying he should be arrested and put on trial.
U.S. officials have issued an arrest warrant for the Rev. Polienato Bernabe, 61, who is charged with capital sexual battery, a felony.
There is no statute of limitations for having sexual intercourse with a child under 12. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
U.S. investigators said Bernabe could be in the Philippines.
Philippine Archbishop Oscar Cruz, assigned in Bernabe’s reported northern Philippine home province of Pangasinan, issued a statement urging Catholic parishes, groups and schools “not to give him any accommodation, much less allow him to exercise the priestly ministry — in the event that he were to come.”
“He should be apprehended and put on trial. And once proven guilty, he must be penalized… he should be dismissed from the clerical state.”
Bernabe served in Florida at Holy Name Catholic Church in Gulfport and Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Petersburg in the 1970s and 1980s.
Melissa M. Price, now a 31-year-old mother, said the priest began abusing her in late 1978 when she was 8. She told investigators she was sexually abused hundreds of times over eight years in her home and a church rectory.
Bernabe bought her family gifts, took her to the Philippines and gave her a new car when she turned 16, she said.
“I just don’t want him to abuse any other children,” said Price, who recently formed the first local support group for victims of clergy abuse. “I’m not trying to get money from the church. I think he should be prosecuted.”
A Diocese of St. Petersburg spokeswoman said no complaints were issued against Bernabe when he served there and the diocese is cooperating with the investigation.
The 120-strong Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, an association of bishops in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, issued an unprecedented apology last week for what it said were grave cases of sexual misconduct by Filipino priests.
The bishops said they have drafted a set of guidelines to address sexual abuse and misconduct by priests. The guidelines, which would address such issues as criminal pedophilia, romantic affairs by priests and homosexuality, could be made final by next July.
Church officials estimated about 200 of the nation’s 7,000 priests may be guilty of sexual misconduct and abuses over the past 20 years. They declined to detail the cases and subsequent actions taken by the church.