Philippines

Days of darkness and light for the Catholic Church

The days are fast approaching when the clerical sexual abuse of children cannot be covered up

Shay Cullen, Manila

Updated: October 17, 2021 09:51 AM GMT

Pope Francis with four French bishops visiting Rome on Oct. 6 for a moment of silent prayer for the victims of sexual abuse committed by members of the French clergy. (Photo: AFP/Vatican Media)

These are days of darkness and light for many in the Catholic Church. The horrific exposes of clerical sexual abuse against children around the world — in the United States, Ireland, Australia, Poland, Germany, Austria and the latest in France — are stunning and shocking. And there are more to come. It is just a matter of time.

The cover-up of clerical sexual abuse of children by some Catholic authorities in cahoots with some civil authorities never seems to end. It has brought shame, embarrassment and loss of respect to dedicated, innocent priests and clerics and laypeople.

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Institutional church leaders in some places are still striving to prevent shame and embarrassment by hiding the abusers and the records of their crimes against children. The days are fast approaching when clerical abuse of children cannot be covered up and hidden. The perpetrators where there is credible evidence will have to face trial in civil courts, according to Pope Francis in his various instructions and in his apostolic letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You are the Light of the World).

This papal instruction combats child sexual abuse by clerics and holds bishops and religious superiors responsible for their actions and inaction in bringing child abusers to accountability and justice. In the Philippines, this has very seldom been done, if ever. The priest suspects are reassigned or are on permanent bail.      

The hiding of crimes of clerical abuse against children is criminal behavior by church officials, priests who knew and said nothing and their lawyers. They are ignoring the suffering and pain of the victims by paying off the parents or guardians and prosecutors not to pursue a criminal case. They must realize protecting the abuser is a criminal offense. He has to be brought to justice to stop more abuse, protect children and give justice to his victims. Yet cover-ups still continue in the Philippines.

No true Christian, priest or bishop should cower in shame and embarrassment because of the heinous crimes of the few. The priesthood has been and continues to be tarnished only to the degree that bishops, priests and laypeople remain silent, inactive and indifferent to reporting child sexual abuse by clerics. The biggest sin is not helping the victims to get protection, healing, empowerment, justice, closure and compensation.

Most bishops, priests and deacons everywhere are committed Christians who serve the poor, comfort the sick, guide the lost, support the lonely, educate the unlearned

There are 1.33 billion Catholics in the world today and 414,582 priests. The majority of bishops and priests are good, caring people and dedicated pastors. Most are truly faithful to their vows of celibacy, although not all. In the Philippines, there are 86 dioceses and 5,037 priests. There is a culture of face saving and cover-ups of child sexual abuse.

As Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said in television interviews, We deal with it internally. Pope Francis says the child rapist must be brought to a civil court to face justice.

Most bishops, priests and deacons everywhere are committed Christians who serve the poor, comfort the sick, guide the lost, support the lonely, educate the unlearned. They are led by the most committed of all, Pope Francis, who has spoken for justice, compassion and solidarity with child victims and enacted new laws to protect them.

Hundreds of thousands of priests and clerics over the years have given their lives in sacrifice for their people. Hundreds are true martyrs. Thousands more have left home and family to serve as missionaries in foreign lands, including the Philippines, to join Christians in solidarity in bringing truth, enlightenment and social justice to many communities.

They have built schools, churches, hospitals and managed projects that help the poor. They have brought the love of God and social justice into the hearts of communities and the lives of people who have been abandoned and exploited by corrupt corporations and government officials. These priests are working for social justice. They all will say they detest child sexual abuse by anybody, above all by priests.

So, why then is the reputation of hundreds of thousands of good bishops, priests, clerics and Catholic faithful being sullied and smeared by the devious, despicable and hideous crimes of just a few of their deviant clergy when being challenged by outraged laypeople in the worldwide media?

The answer is because they were allowed to by the cover-ups, callous indifference, inaction and fear and shame to expose a priest by bishops, priests, clergy and lay Catholics who could not, would not and cannot believe that their exalted priestly idol could have committed the heinous crime of child sexual abuse.

The abused children, who with extraordinary bravery dared to risk everything in their young fragile lives to whisper the shocking truth to an adult about being sexually abused by a priest, are generally not believed. That is another deep wound. They are rejected, scolded, accused of lying and told to shut up and never speak of it again. That is why there are few, if any, court cases against Filipino clerics.

In the Philippines, how many child-abusing clerics have been held to account in the courts? Very few or none at all.

The child victims usually have no protector; their parents are against them, especially if their abuser is a priest. Brave are the parents that would challenge the mighty institutional Church. The victims have no supporters and government social workers often fail them, too. The Church and government have failed to provide safe and secure therapeutic centers operated by professional therapists and counselors with experienced paralegal teams for child victims of sexual abuse. It is only a few NGOs that dare to rescue, protect, heal and demand justice through the courts against the child rapists.

Throughout the Philippines, one in every three girls is a victim of sexual abuse by relatives, neighborhood pedophiles and clergy. Few are reported. The children bury the pain and suffer in silence. Everyone has to stand and fight this terrible crime in society, and the Church in particular.

Every Christian believing in the words of Jesus of Nazareth that children are the most important in the kingdom of God must act on the truth and protect child victims by speaking out and get the suspects to a fair civil trial. In the Philippines, how many child-abusing clerics have been held to account in the courts? Very few or none at all.

We have to be defenders of abused children, protectors of the victims and champions of what is just and right for children. To remain silent, inactive and indifferent is the silence of consent.

* Any information about child abuse can be reported in confidence to the Preda Foundation by emailing predainfo@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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