by Rodel E. Rodis
When Pope Benedict XVI delivered a homily at the Nationals Stadium in Washington DC on April 17, 2008, he asked the congregation to “love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do.” A few hundred miles north of that stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, the faithful parishioners of the St. Frances Cabrini Parish are doing exactly what the Pope asks them to do. They fervently love their parish priest, Fr. Edgardo Abano, and they are waging a holy war against the local Bishop to get him back.
Last year, Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski (pictured on top) of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. informed Fr. Abano that the diocese will be closing down St. Frances Cabrini Catholic School because enrollment was down, the school was underused, and St. Frances Cabrini Church was subsidizing the school.
(in photo:Fr. Edgardo Abano)
Despite the subsidy, Fr. Abano’s church was still able to pay the yearly assessments to the Diocese but not enough to pay the Diocesan debts. For some unknown reason, in 2000, the Metuchen Diocese “forgave” debts owed by many parishes in honor of Jubilee Year except St. Frances Cabrini Parish.
Bishop Bootkoski believed that if the Cabrini school closed down, the parish would be able to pay off its diocesan debts. But Fr. Abano disagreed and led his parishioners in protesting the planned closure of the parish school.
In the middle of this dispute in September last year, the diocese contacted the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey to report that Glenn Obrero, a Filipino diocesan employee and a seminarian at the Immaculate Conception Seminary, had filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against Fr. Abano in 2005. Obrero, who had been petitioned by the diocese for a work visa in 2005, complained that Fr. Abano had inappropriately touched him in the chest and buttocks when he first started working for the diocese.
Bishop Bootkoski did nothing about Obrero’s complaint until September of 2007 when he was locked in a dispute with Fr. Abano over the fate of the Cabrini school.
On October 19, 2007, Glenn Obrero (in photo) was at a police station when he made a tapped phone call to Fr. Abano to wish him a happy birthday. As planned with the police investigators, Obrero steered the Tagalog conversation to the “touching” incident which occurred in 2005. After the phone call, a court interpreter, Bong Nepomuceno, translated the transcripts into English which was then reviewed by the police.
On October 23, 2007, after reviewing the transcripts, the police arrested Fr. Abano at the Cabrini parish rectory charging him with sexual misconduct. The police denied Fr. Abano’s request to be allowed to put on his clothes and was brought to the police station for booking in his undershirt, shorts and slippers. On the same night, he was released on $1,500 bail.
The following day, Bishop Bootkoski asked Fr. Abano to resign as Pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish (since 1992); as Director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries of the Metuchen Diocese that oversees nine ethnic ministries; as Chairman of the Commission for the Filipino Apostolate of the Diocese of Metuchen; and as Head Shepherd of the Association of Filipino Catholic Charismatic Prayer Communities of the U.S.A. and Canada, an association with around 40,000 members.
Fr. Abano was ordained as a priest in the United States on May 18, 1985 and had served many parishes in New Jersey prior to St. Frances Cabrini Parish including: Our Lady of Lourdes in Whitehouse Station; Immaculate Concepcion Church in Somerville, Saints Philip and James Church in Phillipsburg; and Our Lady of Fatima in Piscataway.
His arrest on October 23, 2007 was carried by local and international news and media services including The Filipino Channel, ABS-CBN, which reported the incident to its international audience.
Supporters of Fr. Abano set up a legal defense fund and hired Joseph Benedict, a highly-regarded criminal defense lawyer to represent Fr. Abano. They created a website, http:www.SaveOurPastor.org, to express show their full support for Fr. Abano.
Atty. Benedict hired another Tagalog interpreter to listen to the tape and to translate it. The new translation showed that Fr. Abano denied ever touching Obrero while the first translation showed no such denial, which the police had misconstrued as affirming the misconduct.
“The denials were there (in the new transcript),” Benedict said, “I’m not sure that Fr. Abano would have been charged in the first place if they had an accurate transcript.” He then filed for trial by grand jury based on the new translation which contradicted the key piece of evidence the prosecutor’s office had on the alleged crime.
On February 22, 2008, Fr. Abano and Obrero both testified separately before a grand jury in New Brunswick, N.J. After only 45 minutes of grand jury deliberation, Middlesex Assistant Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua announced that the jury issued a “no bill” finding which meant that the prosecution had no case. All charges against Fr. Abano were dropped.
After the findings were announced, Bishop Bootkoski released a statement saying that he would “review the grand jury’s findings and meet with Fr. Abano before making a decision about the priest’s future.”
According to Fr. Abano’s sister, his primary focus right now is to “clear his good name and good name of his family. He wants to get back his faculties to practice his priestly ministry. This test of faith has only strengthened his resolve and conviction that he will continue his vocation as a priest to serve God and His people.”
More than 70days have passed and Bishop Bootkoski still has not made a decision about Fr. Abano’s fate. Please contact Bishop Bootkoski (firstname.lastname@example.org) and urge him to reinstate Fr. Abano back to his parish and to the national posts that he was compelled to resign from. Tell him to heed the Pope's words.
I would like to acknowledge Pinoywired.com for bringing this case to my attention. Please send comments to Rodel50@aol.com or log on to rodel50.blogspot.com or write to Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127, or call (415) 334-7800.