The Catholic Church said yesterday it regretted not doing more to stamp out illegal ivory used to produce religious symbols as a multi-agency group said it would launch an investigation into the trade, including the role of a prominent priest. Following an article in National Geographic singling out Monsignor Cristobal Garcia over religious icons made of ivory, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu said he has directed the Archdiocesan Commission on the Cultural Heritage of the Church to conduct an inventory of the collection. "Let it be made clear that the Church supports the ban on ivory as it is consistent with her doctrine on stewardship of creation," said Archbishop Palma. Archbishop Palma said that religious items made of ivory in the Philippines pre-dated a ban on the trade imposed in 1990. Isabelo Montejo, regional director of the Environment Department, said there would be a wide-ranging investigation involving Customs, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Church looking into the illegal ivory trade and Monsignor Garcia’s collection which includes crucifixes and Jesus figurines. "The investigation will not only focus on certain persons but will also try to look into the local situation," she said. Monsignor Garcia is already the subject of sexual abuse allegations involving an altar boy in Los Angeles in the US during the 1980s which prompted the Vatican to suspend him this year pending the conclusion of an investigation. The evidence against Monsignor Garcia in the National Geographic article is damning and includes his explanation on how an ivory figurine could be smuggled out of the Philippines. “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it. … This is how it is done,” he was quoted as saying. Archbishop Palma said the allegation that Monsignor Garcia has knowledge about the smuggling of ivory "needs to be assessed as to its veracity." He said the National Geographic article "smacks of bias against religious practices."
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