CAMDEN, N.J. - The Diocese of Camden has opened an investigation of one its priests after FOX 29 Investigates raised questions about his actions.
The probe has been under way for nearly three weeks. How did this story get started? Investigative Reporter Jeff Cole explains that a parishioner of his former church urged us to take a look at where Father Joel Arciga-Camarillo spends his time away from the church. Here's what we saw.
It's just past 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, and we're keeping an eye on a light-green, four-door Volkswagen tucked behind this multistory, bright-yellow home in Camden.
We sit and watch for about an hour and see a man in a T-shirt and ball cap emerge from the back of a van with a female driver and small children, some in Catholic school uniforms. They go in the home.
We return in the early evening, and there's the green Volkswagen again, along with the guy in the cap. This time, he's working on a vehicle in back and moving about the yard.
Why are we looking? Because we've seen the VW before, parked in the lot of the Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Vineland, N.J.
But on this April day, the car is tucked behind the back of a home owned by Maria Rojas-Rodriguez, a divorced mother of four.
We leave but make a spot-check after midnight where the vehicles appear to be parked in the very same positions as when we left hours earlier.
On the next day, the Volkswagen is behind the house where we saw it the night before. We watch and wait for just over an hour, when a man comes out of the back door.
Who is the guy in the ball cap? A Catholic priest of the Camden Diocese who jumps into the VW and we see him leave.
Our investigation started at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral in Camden. A St. Joe's parishioner contacted FOX 29 about one of its priests, Father Joel Arciga-Camarillo. The parishioner expressed concern about Camarillo's relationship with a former secretary at St. Joe's, Rojas-Rodriguez.
Last summer, Fr. Camarillo was transferred to Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland. That's where we met Fr. Camarillo to ask about the concerns of his former parishioner.
So, after watching him drive away from Rojas-Rodriguez's house, we headed to Divine Mercy. We arrived before him and asked a few questions.
Cole: "Father, where are you coming from this morning?
Camarillo: "Where I'm coming from this morning?"
Camarillo: "From Camden."
Cole: "From Camden?"
Cole: "Where in Camden, Father?"
Camarillo: "I was on Federal Street."
Cole: "Were you at the home of Maria Rodriguez this morning?"
Cole: "You weren't at the home of Maria Rodriguez on South 33rd Street?"
Cole: "Father, we saw you leave Maria Rodriguez's home this morning. … Can I ask you why you would be leaving the back door of her home this morning?"
Camarillo: "I – today? This morning?"
Cole: "Yes, sir."
Camarillo: "No, I don't think so."
In fact, it was him, and it wasn't the first time we'd saw him. In fact, working off that tip from the parishioner – concerned about Fr. Camarillo's relationship with the former church secretary – we began to keep an eye on him. What we saw lead the Diocese of Camden to open that investigation.
Let's go back to March 9, midafternoon, when we first noticed a pattern of Wednesday-Thursday visits. Fr. Camarillo's VW was tucked behind the Camden home. It remained there for hours. Maria Rojas-Rodriguez was also there.
And it was behind the house when we looked the next morning at 8:15 a.m.
In the early afternoon, we spotted Camarillo and his VW back at his Vineland church.
The next week, Wednesday, March 16, early afternoon, and there was Camarillo's vehicle in back of the Camden house.
About 45 minutes later, a red van pulled up, and Rojas-Rodriguez got out, followed by a small man in a loose-fitting T-shirt and baseball cap carrying a young girl into the home.
The priest's VW was parked in the same spot the following morning.
The next time we saw it, Fr. Camarillo was at the wheel just before noon driving into the lot at Divine Mercy.
The priest says he's known Rojas-Rodriguez for years when she worked at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral in Camden, where he was the administrator until reassigned to Divine Mercy in July.
It was a move done "without any explanation," complained a parishioner in a letter to the editor of the Courier-Post.
The Diocese has not answered our question about the change.
Camarillo: "She was my former secretary. It was many years ago when I was working at Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral."
Cole: "Father, what is your relationship with this woman? Wouldn't that be inappropriate?"
Camarillo: "No, it's not inappropriate. She's my friend. She has been my friend for many, many years.
Cole: "But do you spend the night with her?"
But the pattern of Camarillo at the Camden home continued for several weeks as FOX 29 Investigates kept track.
On March 23, the VW was behind the home and stayed for hours.
Just after 8 a.m. the next morning, it was still there, and we saw Fr. Camarillo drive it later to his Vineland church.
On Easter Monday, the VW was back behind the house at the dinner hour. We spot-checked after midnight, and the vehicle looked to be just as we last saw it.
It was back in Camden two days later and remained there at least until we stopped looking at 6 p.m.
During the first full week in April, we spotted Fr. Camarillo and his car.
It was in Camden by midmorning on April 6, where it remained throughout the day.
We spot-checked again after midnight, and it looked to be in the same location.
Just after 8 a.m. the following morning, there was the priest's VW. Just after 10 a.m., we saw him leaving from Rojas-Rodriguez's back door.
Along with April 14, it was the second time we spotted Fr. Camarillo using the back door to leave Rojas-Rodriguez's home in the morning.
Cole: "Father, we have seen you for six weeks."
Cole: "Father, do you have an inappropriate relationship with this woman?"
Camarillo: "No, I don't have an inappropriate relationship with nobody else."
Cole: "You can't have a relationship with a woman as a priest, correct?"
Cole: "You cannot?"
Camarillo: "But I have the right to have friends."
We showed him our video of the man in the T-shirt and cap.
Cole: "That's you, correct? That's you?"
Camarillo: "Yeah, it's me."
Cole: "That's you."
Camarillo: "She's my friend."
Cole: "And you're going into the house, that's you."
Camarillo: "Yeah, but she's my friend."
Camarillo: "I have my home."
Cole: "Then why did you leave her…"
Camarillo: "I don't want to tell you."
Cole: "But you left her home this morning, Father."
Cole: "We saw you."
Camarillo: "I went…"
Cole: "Can I show you?"
Camarillo: "No, that's fine, do whatever."
We called the Diocese of Camden to ask what it knew of the relationship, brought to our attention by the parishioner, and offered to show officials some of our video. It repeatedly declined and instead released a statement: "The Diocese of Camden takes seriously any credible accusation against a priest. In response to media interest in Fr. Joel Arciga-Camarillo, the diocese is conducting an investigation into the nature of his relationship with an adult female friend."
The statement added, "We also respect the priestly relationships with people in their care often evolve into stable, chaste and supportive friendships. These friendships are incredibly important in the lives of priests, religious and laity, and shouldn't be considered, at face value, scandalous."
Rojas-Rodriguez did not come to the door when we knocked at her home and has not responded to our request for her to call us.
Cole: "Listen, these are legitimate questions, correct?"
Camarillo: "They are legitimate, but I have the legitimate right to say that she's my friend, and that's it."
Since we spoke with him, Fr. Camarillo appears to have changed his pattern. We have not seen him or his car parked behind her Camden home.
Cole: "We've seen you leave her home."
Camarillo: "I have the right to have friends, as you have right to have friends."
Cole: "What about this morning? What about this morning? Why were you there this morning, so early?"
Camarillo: "No, I, oh my goodness…"
Cole: "Father, you were, we videotaped you."
We spoke to Fr. Camarillo nearly three weeks ago. We've been calling to ask him to tell us more about what he was doing at the house. He has not returned our calls.
Again, the Diocese of Camden has refused to allow us to show them some of our video and when we ask questions. It refers us to its statement.
We will, of course, continue to follow this story as the church continues its investigation. We'll bring you the results as soon as they're released.