SAN JOSE -- Melanie Borrelli was home for the weekend, enjoying the annual festival at her old school, when she saw something that alarmed her. It was a familiar face connected with a horrible rumor.
The 19-year-old college sophomore recognized the man working a sound booth as Mark Gurries, who -- she had heard -- had been convicted of molesting a girl she knew. Borrelli took out her smartphone, Googled his name and found his mug shot on the Megan's Law website.
She couldn't believe it. Here was a registered sex offender working at a parish festival with hundreds of children around, including Borrelli's two younger sisters. Melanie Borrelli found her mom.
"What is he doing here?" ¿she asked her mom, pointing at Gurries and showing her the mug shot.
Parents in the Saint Frances Cabrini Catholic Parish are still waiting for answers to that question first posed Oct. 6 by Melanie Borrelli, a former student at the parish's Catholic elementary school in San Jose. She and others were even more incredulous that night when, they said, parish priest Father Lieu Vu told them Gurries -- convicted in 2010 of molesting a young relative -- had a right to be there. In fact, he possessed a letter from the church giving him explicit permission to be a volunteer.
In a religious community that, like others around the country, still struggles with the Catholic Church's legacy of priest sex abuse scandals and criticism over cover-ups, the
"You think the Catholic Church would have learned," said John Borelli, Melanie's father.
On Thursday, the Diocese of San Jose released a statement saying the letter -- which has not been made public -- was not consistent with its policies and Gurries was no longer a volunteer. But the diocese has not yet answered the community's bigger questions: why was a registered sex offender allowed on campus, who wrote the letter and why hasn't the church been more forthcoming with information?
But a letter emailed by the school's principal dated Thursday said "no written permission for this volunteer was given or would have been given by the school." The letter did not address whether the diocese might have done so.
In interviews with this newspaper, Melanie Borrelli, her father John Borrelli, and two other parents who spoke on condition of anonymity recalled the chaos and anger on the night of Oct. 6 over Gurries' presence at the annual parish festival. They say it took about five hours and the involvement of a Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputy working the event as security to get Gurries to voluntarily leave school grounds.
"Common sense told us there is no reason for him to be around children in that type of atmosphere," one of the parents working a booth with the Borrellis said.
It was late afternoon on the day of the festival when Melanie Borrelli first spotted Gurries working in the sound system booth located next to the stage.
Once she verified Gurries was a sex offender, she went to her parents.
Her mom and dad, along with other parents working in the margarita and coffee booth, sprang into action. Some of the adults went to Vu, the parish priest, telling him to ask Gurries to leave.
But they said Vu replied Gurries had a right to be at the festival. He told the parents Gurries had a letter giving him permission to be there and that they needed to forgive, according to the Borrellis and other parents interviewed.
"How do you stick up for a pedophile?" Melanie Borrelli asked.
Vu did not return a message seeking comment. A spokesperson for the diocese did not immediately return phone calls or emails seeking comment. Gurries also could not be reached for comment.
The California Penal Code states registered sex offenders may be allowed on school grounds if they have written permission from the chief administrative official of that school. Without such permission, a registered sex offender can be convicted of a misdemeanor for being on school grounds.
Melanie Borrelli said that night she pleaded with Vu to ask Gurries to leave.
"It was very chaotic," said one parent who was working the booth with the Borrellis. "There was a lot of yelling, a lot of raised voices. Parents were upset. Father said he (Gurries) was going to be watched."
At one point, the parents said, festival officials asked the sheriff's deputy to escort John Borrelli off campus, claiming he was drunk and causing a scene. John Borrelli said he was not drinking at the festival.
Five hours after Melanie Borrelli spotted Gurries, the deputy sheriff asked the registered sex offender to leave. A sheriff's spokesman this week said the deputy did so "out of an abundance of caution."
In the weeks since the festival, John Borrelli and other parents said they repeatedly sent emails and made phone calls to school officials seeking answers. But they didn't get any.
The first official response came Thursday when the Diocese of San Jose issued a brief statement saying Gurries was no longer a volunteer. The statement stated "The letter, by which he was able to be admitted as a volunteer, is not consistent with the policies of the Diocese of San Jose."
The diocese said more answers will be forthcoming after an internal inquiry is completed.
One parent, who spoke anonymously, called the response by the diocese "an absolute joke."
John Borrelli, whose four daughters have attended Saint Frances Cabrini, including two who are still enrolled, said all parents are asking for is the truth.
Melanie Borrelli said the entire incident has her rethinking her faith and questioning those in charge at the diocese.
"How can you be so lackadaisical about molestation, but a kid can't forget their homework?" Melanie Borrelli said, referring to strict school rules. "What kind of lesson is that? You can molest a child and come back."
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez