A suspended Catholic priest has been charged with raping a teenage girl at his former Roxborough parish and recording their sexual encounter five years ago.
According to court records, the Rev. Armand Garcia, most recently of St. Martin of Tours Parish in the city’s Summerdale section, surrendered to Philadelphia police Monday — a year after the investigation of his conduct emerged into public view with a police search of his rectory.
Yet a day after his arrest, details of his alleged crimes remained hazy.
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case, and court records detailing the basis for the charges were not available Tuesday afternoon.
Sources familiar with the investigation said the charges stemmed from Garcia’s relationship with an altar girl at Immaculate Heart Parish in Roxborough, with whom investigators believe he had sexual contact starting when she was about 16.
Garcia, now 49, allegedly offered her alcohol or marijuana during encounters over a period of years in the parish rectory, his living quarters, and other locations, said those sources, who were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The specific count of rape with which Garcia was charged Monday stems from an alleged incident in August 2014, according to court filings. His accuser came forward after he had been transferred to St. Martin of Tours in Summerdale in 2017.
Garcia’s lawyer, William J. Brennan, defended what he described as his client’s otherwise unblemished record in more than a decade serving at various schools and parishes across the Philadelphia region.
“He’s been a priest for a long time, and is still a fully ordained Roman Catholic priest,” Brennan said Tuesday. “This is the only whiff of trouble that I’m aware of.”
Garcia’s arrest comes as the Catholic Church grapples with a global resurgence of the clergy sex-abuse crisis kicked off in part by last year’s grand jury report implicating hundreds of Pennsylvania priests and their superiors in decades of abuse and cover-up. Church officials, including the pope himself at an unprecedented Vatican conference last month, have worked to assure the faithful that they are serious about cleaning house of all known abusers.
Ordained in 2005, Garcia had passed a background check and had attended child protection training programs that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia requires for all priests, said archdiocesan spokesperson Kenneth Gavin in a statement Tuesday. He added that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput suspended Garcia and notified parishioners at St. Martin of Tours and Immaculate Heart a year ago — as soon as he learned of the allegations that eventually led to Monday’s arrest.
Since then, Garcia has lived in a private residence in Aston, Delaware County. His ministry has been restricted and the archdiocese is not contributing to his legal bills, Gavin said. Garcia’s name and photo have been scrubbed from parish websites and that of the National Association of Filipino Priests, an organization for which Garcia had served as a regional representative.
“These charges are serious and disturbing,” Gavin said. “The Archdiocese is cooperating fully with law enforcement regarding this matter and remains fervently committed to preventing child abuse.”
Garcia is the first priest whom Philadelphia authorities have charged with sexual misconduct since the conclusion of a 2011 grand jury investigation that led to prosecutions of five area priests and the archdiocese’s former secretary for clergy, Msgr. William J. Lynn, who is awaiting retrial on charges he endangered children by covering for abusive priests.
Only two of those cases resulted in sex-crime convictions. Brennan, who represented two of the other priests at trials that ended with deadlocked juries, said that the outcome of those cases should give observers pause before they rush to judgment.
“The allegations in those cases were very troubling, as is this one,” he said. “But in those cases, there weren’t convictions. We should all remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
Garcia was released on $250,000 bond Monday evening. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 14.