A diocese in the Philippines said it “will not condone trafficking in persons” after a priest was arrested in a child prostitution sting conducted by local police, adding that it will “fully cooperate” with the investigation.
Monsignor Arnel Lagarejos, 55, was arrested on July 28 after arranging a meeting with a 13-year-old prostitute through her pimp in Marikina City, which is in the greater Manila region.
Police said the priest already had two previous encounters with the same girl.
Marikina police official Roger Quesada told The Inquirer, a local newspaper, that the girl did not know he was a priest.
The sting was organized after the girl went to the police, claiming Lagarejos had threatened her with a gun on their previous meeting, and warned her against accepting any other clients.
After his arrest, Bishop Francis M. de Leon of the Diocese of Antipolo suspended Lagarejos from his positions as parish priest of St. John the Baptist parish in Taytay and as president of Cainta Catholic College.
The priest now faces charges under the Philippines Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
In a statement issued on August 1, the diocese said it “makes it clear that it will not in any way condone or abet the trafficking in persons, particularly of minors, nor protect the offenders from prosecution, and subsequent trial and punishment when evidence so warrants.”
The statement also said in keeping with the protocols of the Church in the Philippines, Lagarejos is “forbidden from having contact with all but his lawyer, his brother-priests, and church authorities. He is particularly forbidden from any communication with minors and from maintaining company with them in any way whatsoever.”
The diocese also offered “counseling and psychological services” to the child prostitute involved in the case, stating this offer was made “in love, affection, and compassion to the child, who, it is in our understanding, has been in the keeping of traffickers in the past.”
The statement said the diocese “condemns in the strongest terms possible the trafficking in persons,” adding that “history will prove the claim that the Church, at various times in its history, has been the liberation of trafficked persons.”
The diocese also said it has already begun canonical proceedings against the priest, but added this investigation was independent of the one being conducted by the civil authorities.
“Even as his guilt remains to be proved and the precepts of the Constitution grant him the presumption of innocence, the Diocese has taken every step to hold him answerable for the charges brought against him both before the Republic and before the Church,” the statement said.
Archbishop emeritus Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, the former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), was asked on Sunday by de Leon to lead the inquiry.
“This case is considered the gravest violation of the commandments, abuse of minors… I don’t know [the length of the process], it depends on how fast I could gather evidence … how fast I could get my testimonies,” Cruz told reporters, but added it would take less than a year.
“But it does not mean he is guilty before proven innocent. He is innocent until proven guilty,” Cruz said.
Once the archbishop is finished with his investigation, the result will be transmitted to the Vatican.