BACOLOD City – The Diocese of San Carlos in Negros Occidental has expressed sadness and shock over the sexual abuse accusation faced by one of its parish priests in Cadiz City.

“We are greatly saddened and shocked that a young child is alleged to have been molested by one of our clergy,” Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said in a statement posted on the Facebook page of the Diocese of San Carlos Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services on Thursday.

Alminaza issued the statement after the Cadiz City Police Station Women and Children Protection Desk on Wednesday filed a rape complaint before the Cadiz City Prosecutor’s Office against the priest for allegedly molesting a four-year-old girl.

Although the statement acknowledged the incident, the bishop did not name the priest, who has already been relieved from his assignment.

“I have assigned a priest to take over temporarily the shepherding of the parish concerned,” he said.

This will “give the accused time to spiritually prepare himself to face the allegations and to give way for an impartial investigation,” he added.

Alminaza, however, said they are “not hiding the accused to protect him from the charges.”

“We are proceeding with our own canonical process as dictated by church law by providing pastoral care to the accused while allowing the legal process to take its course,” the bishop said.

He also said that while the Diocese of San Carlos “acknowledges the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise,” they are also “steadfast to assist the victim and cooperate in the process so the truth will come out and justice is served.”

Alminaza described the incident as “painful” which “creates a deep wound and hurt not only to the victim and the victim’s family but also to the communities and to the entire clergy of the Diocese of San Carlos.”

The bishop said they have also reached out to the family of the minor.

“We assure the family that we are concerned that their child is given proper care and intervention and we have asked our parish leaders to reach out to them on our behalf,” he said.

Alminaza added the Diocese of San Carlos is “committed to search for truth and to make sure the process will be fair and just to both parties and whoever is responsible will have to face the consequences.”

Chief Insp. Robert Mansueto, officer-in-charge of Cadiz City Police Station, said in a media interview that the girl’s mother informed them that her daughter was sexually abused by the priest on February 23.

The mother, who serves as the parish secretary, would usually bring her daughter to the church, but eventually the girl seemed hesitant to go with her.

According to the police, medical results showed the victim was negative of laceration. However, the incident can still be considered as rape since there was a reported sexual assault involving the girl’s private part, it added. (PNA)