A Filipino Roman Catholic priest, who returned to the United States to surrender after a year of hiding in the Philippines over child pornography charges, is ordered held for $500,000 cash bail even as church leaders in Massachusetts asked the Vatican to defrock the embattled priest.

Rev. Lowe Dongor, 36, pleaded not guilty on child pornography and larceny charges during his arraignment on Dec. 24 in Worcester Superior Court in Massachusetts.

Dongor was associate pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Fitchburg, Mass. when he was initially charged in 2011.

Prosecutors said sexually explicit images of pre-teen girls was found on his laptop computer, and he was also accused of stealing from the church’s weekly collection.

Dongor later fled to his native Iloilo in the Philippines, and a year later returned to the U.S. last December.

He surrendered himself to authorities in Los Angeles.

Worcester Bishop Robert McManus has asked Pope Benedict XVI to defrock Dongor, who was placed on administrative leave by the diocese.

McManus reportedly removed Dongor from public ministry in July 2011 after he allegedly stole $250 from a cash drawer at St. Joseph Parish.

He was arraigned in September that year and was released on his own recognizance.

In mid-October of the same year, McManus informed U.S. authorities that Dongor had left the Diocese without his permission.

He also notified the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that Dongor may have fled the U.S. for his native country, and stated that he is not a priest in good standing.

Dongor was due in Worcester court Oct. 25 for a pre-trial hearing; he did not appear and a default warrant was issued for his arrest, according to court documents.

The ex-Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fugitive issued a public apology hours before his return to American soil.

In a three-page handwritten letter, Dongor topped his apology with a plea to his critics and members of the media to spare his family.

“Please spare my family. Throw everything at me, vilify me if you must, but please not my family, especially my mother,” Dongor said.

“I am facing up to the terrible mistakes I have committed and I plead for prayers alongside for forgiveness. But again, please spare my family.”

Dongor made the appeal after members of the local press hounded the Dongor home in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.

His mother has been traumatized by the incessant media attention, Dongor said.

“I understand the gravity of what I am being charged and I am ready to face it all,” he said.

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