The priest caught at a motel with a 13-year-old girl has posted bail today (Thursday, August 1), as church leaders vow there will be “no cover up”.
As we reported on Saturday, Monsignor Arnel Lagarejos, aged 55, was arrested in Marikina City for allegedly “booking” a sexual encounter with the underage girl through a teenage pimp.
Antipolo Bishop, Francisco de Leon, the bishop of Antipolo, has appointed retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, 83, to investigate the case in parallel to the police investigation.
In a diocesan statement today said: “It will not in any way condone or abet the trafficking of persons, particularly of minors, nor protect the offenders from prosecution, and subsequent trial and punishment when the evidence so warrants.”
The diocese added that “condemns in the strongest terms possible the trafficking of persons.”
Lagarejos faces a human trafficking case after police caught him in an entrapment operation last Friday evening.
Initial reports suggested that he had pulled a gun on the arresting cops, but more recent reports have alleged that he had previously made his victim promise at gunpoint to keep their encounters secret.
He was today released from custody after posting a 120,000 bail.
The diocese’s statement continued: “Even as his guilt remains to be proven 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 also confirmed his suspension, saying Lagarejos had been “relieved of all his pastoral assignments and is forbidden from having contact with all but his lawyer, his brother-priests, and church authorities.”
Lagarejos was president of Cainta Catholic College. He was also parish priest of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Poblacion, Taytay, Rizal, and the holder of a doctorate in ‘Moral Theology’.
Police said, however, that Lagarejos initially identified himself to them as being “self employed”.
The diocesan statement continued: “He is particularly forbidden from any communication with minors and from maintaining company with them in any way whatsoever.”
For the 13-year-old girl, the Diocese offered counselling and psychological services “in sincere love, affection, and compassion to the child”.
The diocese also said that it received news of Lagarejos’ arrest “with sorrow, with sympathy for the trafficked child and her parents, but also with abiding faith in the God of mercy and compassion.”
The arrest is one of the biggest sex-scandals to rock the Philippine Catholic Church in recent years. The church has often been criticised for covering up abuse by priests, and also for transferring offenders from one parish to another.
The case of Lagarejos follows frequent criticism from President Duterte for the “hypocrisy” of its abusive priests.
The president claims to have been molested by a Jesuit priest when he was in high school.
Allegations have been circulating on social media that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Socrates Villegas had asked the girl’s mother to forgive Lagarejos. This has been denied
Nonetheless, the Diocese of Antipolo appealed for prayers for the erring priest in its statement today.
“As the Lord Jesus never gave up on even the most hateful of sinners, we do not give up on the priest concerned – in fact, on no one at all,” the Diocese of Antipolo said.
“We shall, as a Diocese, continuously pray for renewal and conversion, for fidelity and for healing, just as we pray earnestly for the child and her family.”