By Kathy Kane
There was very sad and disturbing news last week in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with the arrest of Father Armand Garcia, who was charged with rape, sexual abuse of a minor, and corruption of a minor. When the year long criminal investigation began in March of 2018, Garcia was the newly appointed pastor at St. Martin of Tours parish. He had been a parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Roxborough from 2011 through 2017. The criminal charges allege the abuse occurred during his years at IHM.
The only initial announcement made by the Archdiocese last March was to the St Martin of Tours parish where police had executed a search of the rectory. There was no press release issued by the Archdiocese informing that a Philadelphia priest was under criminal investigation for misconduct with a minor. There was was no announcement by the Archdiocese to his former parish of IHM, where he had interacted with children and young people for the previous six years.
Last year many IHM parishioners first learned of the criminal investigation from the local news media who picked up the story from our blog post when we alerted our readers that Garcia was under investigation after we received a tip about situation. Catholic Philly finally ran a story 12 days after the rectory at St Martin of Tours had been searched.
We heard from an attendee at the 9:30 a.m. Mass at IHM this past weekend that the hierarchy was not present for the announcement that the pastor shared concerning Garcia’s recent arrest . The information from the Archdiocese press release from earlier in the week was shared in the pastor’s announcement and the information was available for parishioners to take with them. There was also the reminder for everyone to be charitable in their conversation with others concerning the situation. There were staff from the Office of Children and Youth Protection of the Archdiocese present and were noticed at a table when entering the Church but at the conclusion of Mass it got a bit confusing when the staff member now had her coat zipped up, which covered her name tag. She was now standing and greeting parishioners as they exited.
. When a priest is arrested for the rape of a 16 year old parishioner and the best the Archdiocese can do is to have a timeline of the investigation announced at Mass, and a representative from Victim Assistance in the vestibule, there is not much hope that Archdiocese will ever respond in a pastoral manner. The Archdiocese claims that in March 2018 they did not know that the crimes were alleged to have occurred at IHM so there was no announcement to the parish. A bizarre technicality when common sense would dictate that the parish where he had been recently stationed for 6 years should have been informed. Even now with the arrest and the timeline showing that the crimes occurred during Garcia’s time at IHM, the hierarchy was MIA at the morning mass. Even if they cannot provide answers at this time, an acknowledgment is deserved.
The Archdiocese will often state that they cannot comment on a case until after court proceedings but when the former CFO of the Archdiocese , Anita Guzzardi,was found to have embezzled close to a million dollars, Archbishop Chaput wrote an article about her alleged crimes prior to her arrest and before any guilty plea or conviction. Along with detailing the alleged crimes, he also talked about the anger concerning the financial loss, including his own anger. There was no mention of making sure our conversations were charitable about the situation
The arrest of Garcia a few weeks before Easter proves particularly troubling for the Archdiocese as Christmas and Easter are a source of “holiday revenue” for the Church . Maybe that is part of the reason the investigation was initially kept under wraps last March during the Lenten season. There is no worse time for bad PR for the Church than when parishioners’ donations are expected to exceed the normal Sunday collections.
Sadly, once again, the wolves have attacked the flock. As seems to be standard operating procedure the “shepherds” are nowhere to be found – protecting themselves rather than caring for those they have been entrusted to by God. At this point it is a good idea to stop acting as sheep.
This Lenten season may we all remember the suffering of the innocent children, young people, and adults who have been victims of abuse within the Church.