A 55-year-old priest and head of a Catholic school has been stripped of his posts after he was caught driving a 13-year-old girl to a motel.
Arnel Fuentes Lagarejos, former parish priest of St John The Baptist Parish and president of Cainta Catholic College, has been accused of child abuse near Marikina City in the Philippines.
The priest allegedly arranged via social media to meet the girl and a pimp outside a shopping mall, where he reportedly paid around 500 Philippine Pesos (£7.49) to take the girl.
He faces charges for violating the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and an investigation is underway after he was discovered as part of a police entrapment mission.
The entrapment was allegedly called for by the girl’s mother, after the girl opened up to social workers about the abuse and who then informed her mother.
The department accessed her social media accounts to find out who was selling her to men. The pimp was a friend of the girl, aged 16, as reported by Rappler.
The 13-year-old victim said the motel would have been her third meeting with the priest, and she accused him of pointing a gun at her and warning her not to meet other men.
The Diocese of Antipolo said in a statement: “The Diocese of Antipolo 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.”
It added it would “not give up” on the priest and would “pray” for the victim and her family.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said the church would not tolerate immorality, and he will collect evidence and testimonies from people with direct knowledge of the case before submitting the document to Rome.
The final decision lies with the Vatican.
“But it does not mean he is guilty before proven innocent. He is innocent until proven guilty,” Mr Cruz said, as reported by ABS-CBN News, adding that clergymen were not saints and could make mistakes.
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