[Rewind #AwaNgDiyosPH] Clergy sexual abuse: Church’s ‘scourge’ resurrects its PHL tie-in

 

 

For Easter, The Filipino Connection releases articles from its special edition on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis last January 15-19, 2015.

 

MANILA—Just as Pope Francis had stepped out of the Sri Lankan Airlines plane to set afoot in Asia’s Catholic stronghold January 15, a US-based group’s website still has no updated page that’s supposed to bare explosive information that the group said —and promised— it will upload “in time” for the Pontiff’s visit to the Philippines.

By January 19, when Pope Francis’ Philippine Airlines flight left for Rome, there’s still no updated page or link in that site owned by the advocacy group Bishop Accountability.

Not until finally, on January 26, the upper-right portion of the home page of Bishop Accountability <www.bishopaccountability.org> revealed the link, in blue text, titled “The Philippines: Key Cases.” This link launches Bishop Accountability’s Philippines project, with the link profiling “a dozen key cases of priests in the Philippines accused of child sexual abuse”. The first batch contained seven priests now in the Philippines who are accused of abusing children in the US, and six Philippine-based priests alleged to have abused children in the motherland.

And just when the Vatican had stepped up its measures to address alleged child sexual abuse cases in dioceses worldwide, old and new cases in the Philippines and elsewhere are keeping pace —or is outpacing— the Vatican’s responses to eradicating clergy sexual abuse.

The information from this “US-based archival and research group” came into the fore just when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had thought these alleged sexual abuse cases had gone away —especially after the CBCP issued a set of Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy in 2003. The most recent news report Bishop Accountability cited was 2013; in terms of diocesan and parish directories or newsletters, the most recent publication date of these cases was 2014.

The issues facing these 13 priests (one of whom is an American) were actually old cases that, however, remain unresolved —and some of the priests, Bishop Accountability contends, remain in “active ministry”. Bishop Accountability, in the link to the Philippines special report, used

This is the webpage of the advocacy group Bishop Accountability presenting its 2015 research project on the Philippines, recording alleged clergy sexual abuse cases by clergymen from the Philippines or from the United States but involving Filipinos and Americans.

This is the webpage of the advocacy group Bishop Accountability presenting its 2015 research project on the Philippines, recording alleged clergy sexual abuse cases by clergymen from the Philippines or from the United States but involving Filipinos and Americans.

newspaper reports, diocesan and parish newsletters, books, and online Church files in American dioceses.

Reported claims of sexual abuse by diocesan priests Ruben Abaya, Raul Cabonce, Hermy Dave Ceniza, Arwyn Diesta, Orestes Huerta, Gabriel Madangeng, Jr. and Joseph Skelton; as well as by religious priests Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, O.P., Fr. Apolinario Mejorada, O.S.A., Fr. Manuel Perez Maramba, O.S.B. and Fr. Agustin Cuenca, O.F.M., were posted in Bishop Accountability’s site. News reports, Catholic directories, parish or diocesan newsletters, and even online documents released recently by an American diocese were cited as reference in each of the priests’ names.

Just before Pope Francis had convened a plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors last February 6 to 8, Bishop Accountability Co-Director Anne Barrett Doyle emailed the Philippine government’s Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) —formally requesting that information surrounding the alleged cases of the 13 priests be passed on “to the appropriate law enforcement and child protection agencies at both the national and local levels”.

“We believe children are at risk now,” Doyle wrote in her letter to CWC Officer-in-Charge Patricia Luna. “We recommend respectfully too that your agency begin pushing legislation that would hold church officials accountable…”

At the sidelines of a pre-papal visit event held at a Catholic college and hosted by a national newspaper, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said the CBCP has its pastoral guidelines. Nothing more was elaborated since he’s “not part of a committee” handling these cases.

Days after the assembly of the pontifical commission, the New York Times reported a sexual abuse case in Granada, Spain that involved nine priests and two other males, of which a Spanish court judge ruled February 18 that only one of the priests, Fr. Roman Martinez, may be charged (since the statute limitations on the others, for low-level criminal charges, had expired). In Puerto Rico, Associated Press reported a 50-year-old priest was released on bail after being charged with lewd acts that involved a 14-year-old boy. Some five days after, a priest in the Czech Republic had just been convicted of rape and sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Prior to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors last February, Pope Francis wrote all dioceses February 5 saying “everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”

It is diocesan bishops’ and major religious superiors’ responsibility, Pope Francis adds, “to ascertain that the safety of minors and vulnerable adults is assured in parishes and other Church institutions”.

At the pontifical commission’s plenary assembly whose members included clergy sexual abuse survivors, members of the commission (including Filipino psychologist Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco) were cooking up a proposal surrounding the “accountability of people in positions of responsibility within the Church with allegations of abuse”.

Among the means for this accountability to take place, the commission said, is “raising awareness at all levels of the Church regarding the seriousness and urgency in implementing correct safeguarding procedures”.  This proposal is awaiting the Pope’s nod.

As for the Philippine Church, while the CBCP had issued the 2003 pastoral guidelines, Bishop Accountability alleges CBCP failed to publish —and circulate publicly— the updated abuse-response policy that’s supposedly due to the Vatican last May 2012. Other bishops’ conferences in countries like Brazil, Chile and Colombia as well as the United States, Canada and Australia were posted already, Bishop Accountability said.

It could be remembered that then CBCP President and now Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, D.D. apologized in 2003 for these reported cases which, he estimated to be around 200 of them. That same year, the Union of Catholic Asia News (UCANews) reported at least 34 priests were suspended for sexually harassing women —with 20 of these priests coming from a single diocese.

But while Bishop Accountability is pushing for government authorities to prosecute these alleged cases, history is not on the side of anti-clergy abuse advocates. A 2004 report by nonprofit groups Catholics for Free Choice (US-based) and Linangan ng Kababaihan (Likhaan) wrote that “not a single case” of clergy sex abuse was “successfully prosecuted”.

Thus it wasn’t surprising that some Philippine episcopal authorities were suspected of hiding the priests bearing such sexual abuse cases. Meanwhile, Cardinal Tagle told attendees to a 2012 conference in Rome the Philippine Church does pastoral care as well as restitution for victims and their families.

The cases had even been brought to the attention of the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture: Vatican officials, the committee claimed, failed to properly report sexual abuse cases and instead moved (rather than disciplined) said priests and, in some instances, failed to pay abuse survivors. Vatican dismissed the UN’s report and said the Vatican did not exercise control over Catholic priests worldwide.

The Vatican added 848 priests had been defrocked and 2,572 others were imposed lesser penalties over a nearly ten-year period (2004 to May 2014) —all these being cases the Holy See handled directly.

With some Filipino bishops mum on the issue in public events prior and during the recent papal visit, the Catholic Church’s modern-day “scourge” had enough of Pope Francis patience. So in his February 5 letter to all dioceses, Pope Francis wrote perhaps the Catholic Church’s stingiest words on this issue: “…There is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors.”

But for survivors of clergy abuse, some of whom are members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, they’re awaiting swift actions from a papacy which claims “zero tolerance” for clergymen reported to be involved in sexual abuse cases.

 

(Editor’s note: The Filipino Connection had repeated requests to interview Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco of the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors. He did not answer back the requests. Bishop Accountability was also emailed but did not reply as well).

 

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About JEREMAIAH OPINIANO