When Pope Benedict XVI delivered a homily at the Nationals Stadium in Washington DC on April 17, 2008, he asked the Catholic faithful 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 parishioners of the St. Frances Cabrini Church, led by Frank Cicerale and Anne Carey, are doing exactly what the Pope asks them to do. They love and affirm the excellent work of their parish priest, Fr. Edgardo Abano, and they are determined to get the local Bishop to reinstate him.
Last year, Bishop Paul Gregory Bootkoski of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. informed Fr. Abano that the Diocese would 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. Despite the subsidy, however, Fr. Abano’s church was still able to pay the yearly assessments to the Diocese although not enough to pay off the Diocesan debts.
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 with his bishop and led his parishioners in protesting the planned closure of the parish school.
In the middle of this dispute in September of 2007, 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 informed the Diocese way back in 2005 that Fr. Abano had inappropriately touched him in the chest and buttocks.
Was it a coincidence that Bishop Bootkoski saw no merit in Obrero’s claim for more than two years until he was locked in a dispute with Fr. Abano over the fate of the Cabrini school?
After the bishop lodged the complaint with the local prosecutor, the police on October 19, 2007 invited Obrero to the police station and instructed him to call Fr. Abano and to wish him a happy birthday while they taped the conversation. As planned, Obrero brought up the “touching” incident which occurred in 2005. After the phone call, a court interpreter, Bong Nepomuceno, provided the English translation of the taped conversation in Tagalog.
After reviewing the transcripts, on October 23, 2007, the police arrested Fr. Abano at the Cabrini parish rectory. The police denied Fr. Abano’s request to be allowed to put on his clothes and brought him to the police station in his undershirt, shorts and slippers. After he was booked, Fr. Abano was released on $1,500 bail.
The next day, at the direction of Bishop Bootkoski, Fr. Abano resigned as Pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, a post he had held since 1992. He also tendered his resignation as Director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries of the Metuchen Diocese which 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 Church including: Our Lady of Lourdes in Whitehouse Station; Immaculate Conception 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.
After his arrest, parish supporters of Fr. Abano set up a legal defense fund and hired Joseph Benedict, a highly-regarded criminal defense lawyer, to represent Fr. Abano. The parishioners drew up a petition signed by more than 900 of them and created a website, www.SaveOurPastor.org, to express their full support for Fr. Abano.
Benedict hired a Tagalog interpreter to listen to the taped conversation 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, NewJersey. 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.
After the charges against Fr. Abano were dropped, Bishop Bootkoski announced that he would “review the grand jury’s findings and meet with Fr. Abano before making a decision about his future.”
According to his sister, Fr. Abano’s primary focus right now is to “clear his good name and the 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 70 days have passed since the grand jury’s “no bill” finding and Bishop Bootkoski still has not made a decision about Fr. Abano’s fate. Why?
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.