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Church to hold own trial for priest

The Catholic Church in Guatemala plans to conduct a religious trial of a priest convicted of involvement in the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi.

A clergy panel will be formed to judge the behavior of Mario Orantes, the church announced in a release Monday. If found guilty, the priest could be excommunicated.

The trial will not take place until the secular court's sentence is final, said Nery Rodenas of the Guatemalan Archbishop's Human Rights Office.

That process could take up to a year depending on how long it takes Orantes to exhaust his appeal of the 20-year sentence handed down on Friday when he was convicted along with three military men.

Gerardi, the 75-year-old head of the church's human rights office here, was bludgeoned to death with a concrete block at his seminary on April 26, 1998. Two days earlier, he had presented a report blaming the military for most of the 200,000 deaths in Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war.

Orantes, 32, began his work as Gerardi's assistant in 1990. He was convicted of giving the killers access to and information on Gerardi.