Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not actively pursuing case

Ex-altar boy, now a lawyer, ‘not actively pursuing’ case vs. priest
Comment| More | By Bernadette A. Parco

Monday, March 21, 2011
ALMOST 10 years after a case of sexual abuse was filed by a former altar boy against a priest, the complainant has not yet reached “first base.”

Lawyer Michal Gatchalian, 30, told Sun.Star Cebu his complaint is still pending in the Court of Appeals. “They are still debating whether or not the case should be filed in court,” he said.

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Gatchalian and three other sacristans came out with a complaint against Augustinian priest Apolinario “Jing” Mejorada in 2002.

“We sent a letter to (then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo) Cardinal Vidal asking him why Fr. Jing is still in Cebu. We were made to believe by his (Fr. Mejorada’s) brother that he would not be able to return to Cebu,” said Gatchalian.

“The decision to file a case came later. We did it so the church will reveal its investigation on the case,” he added.

Like a blank slate

Cardinal Vidal created a committee to investigate in August 2001.

Gatchalian said he was told to sign a blank piece of paper, which should have contained his narration of events. But the priest handling the case failed to make a report.

Gatchalian said he kept on asking but failed to get a copy of the results of the church’s investigation.

In January 2003, Gatchalian, then 21 years old, filed the complaint against Mejorada before the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor through the Children’s Legal Bureau.

He narrated that the abuse began in January 1998, when he was 17 years old. But the incident was repeated in September 1999.

Mejorada, in his affidavit submitted in 2003, admitted that what he did “were wrong and shameful acts” and said he has already sought forgiveness, not only from Gatchalian and his family, but also from church officials.

By June 2003, the Office of the Cebu City Prosecutor dismissed the case, reversing the findings of then Associate Prosecuting Attorney Rogelio del Prado, who recommended
that the priest be charged with sexually abusing the former altar boy.

‘Perhaps I can help’

Gatchalian said the case he filed against the priest was one of the factors that made him decide to go to law school.

Thinking about past events, he wished he knew how to go about the filing and handling of the case.

“I admitted I had lapses. I was hot-tempered, too arrogant to go through the process. I wish I had somebody (who could have guided me),” he said.

“(So I thought) why not go to law school? Maybe, there is somebody like me who needs help just like I did,” he said.

Gatchalian entered law school at the University of San Carlos and passed the bar
examinations in 2008.

One of the popular cases Gatchalian handled was that of former monk Venancio Cabillon, who claimed he was unjustly dismissed from his congregation. But Gatchalian’s services ended after negotiations with a church representative did not prosper.

“I thought that (case) was the chance for me. I saw myself in that case,” he said.

Gatchalian is now handling his own case, which he filed against the priest. He also handles some pro bono cases.

He recalled handling a case for nuns who could not afford to pay the legal fees.
“One day, they visited me and brought biko (rice cake). It was the sweetest biko I ever tasted,” he said with a big smile.

Gatchalian said he had a brief encounter with Fr. Mejorada in a church in Makati City in 2008.

“I have never heard of him since. I never really thought about (forgiving him) but if he asks, there is nothing holding me back,” said the former altar boy.

He added he is not actively pursuing the case anymore.

“I let the case go through the whole process. Unless they ask me to file a motion, I would. I don’t think of it so much. I would evaluate it as a lawyer would his case,” he said.

When Gatchalian’s case was widely publicized, it had a negative effect on him.

“I was advised to resign after they (his employer) found out about my case,” he said, but added he is grateful for the support of his family and friends.

His faith has not wavered and he continues to serve the church.

“I am now a lay minister at the USC chapel. I am too old to be a sacristan,” he said.

Gatchalian also said he has high hopes for the new archbishop of Cebu, Jose Palma, in handling cases of erring priests and the victims.

“I hope he would impose church justice and administrative sanctions,” he said. “I hope they leave legal matters to the proper body.”

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