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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

Church, civil laws must hold priests accountable for child abuse

Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists stand for a protest by St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 24, 2019

Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists stand for a protest by St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 06, 2023 11:54 AM GMT
What will likely never happen in the Philippines is an independent investigation to uncover the extent of clerical child abuse

It is that terrible time again for devout Catholics and Christians everywhere when the evil of clerical child sex abuse is revealed once again on the international stage.

An investigative report on clerical child abuse released May 23 by the US Attorney General named six Catholic dioceses in Illinois and declared that clerical child abuse is as rife today as in the past.

The sacred trust that the people of God, followers of Jesus have in the clergy is challenged by the truth about clerical abuse of children.

If they have true faith in Jesus of Nazareth and his teaching that goodness, truth, justice, and love of neighbor and children will one day overcome and defeat evil, their faith will not be shaken. They will stand firm and welcome the truth that is cleansing the institutional Church.

In the Philippines, the cleansing has not yet happened. Child abuse cases involving clergy are settled with money, the clerical abusers go free to abuse again. The truth does escape sometimes but rarely.

In Cagayan, Father Karole Reward Israel is in jail for allegedly committing multiple rape and sexual assaults and video recording the encounters and blackmailing the child victim. He admits it but claims it was consensual, but the blackmail of the victim says it was not.

"It seems some bishops believe clergy have impunity for crimes of child abuse"

In Cadiz City, Father Aron Buenacosa, was charged in 2019 with the sexual assault of a four-year-old child. He paid bail. She testified clearly to the abuse. The judge has not made a ruling after four years in violation of a Supreme Court order.

Why do we ask? Will they attempt to get the child, now eight years old to withdraw her complaint?

Priests like many abusive clergy are allowed by their bishop to continue in the ministry despite Vatican instructions they be suspended. In the Philippines, a powerful hierarchy makes each case an internal matter for the Church, as Cardinal Antonio Tagle told the BBC.

It seems some bishops believe clergy have impunity for crimes of child abuse. Few cases against priests ever get to court while most victims and their parents are intimidated and paid to stay quiet. Such payments are in effect an admission of guilt, and in the Philippines, it works. There have been no convictions of a priest ever.

The Church as an institution, it seems, can intimidate, influence and control some prosecutors and judges. A clear case was in Naval, Basilan, where Father Pius Hendrix walked free and continued in ministry after serious charges of multiple abuses of altar boys were long pending with prosecutors without action, although a US judge found probable cause and ordered him to be brought to court under US law.

But truly dedicated prosecutors, as in Cagayan and Cadiz City, have stood firm and strong in doing justice. What will likely never happen in the Philippines is an independent investigation by an external team of investigators working with the Department of Justice to uncover the extent of clerical child sexual abuse as they do in the US or Australia, Europe, and other countries.

There, the investigations by the authorities independent of the hierarchy revealed clerical child sex abuse and cover-ups by bishops like in the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore. There, over 150 priests of the diocese were found to have sexually abused at least 600 children and many more cases were covered up by Church officials. That is just the tip of the iceberg of clerical child abuse in Baltimore.

An investigation by the US Attorney General in 2018, found that six Catholic dioceses in Illinois, including Chicago, reported 103 confirmed clerical sex abusers. The investigative report published on May 23 revealed an additional 348 priest child abusers that were not reported to the authorities.

"Prosecutors must be strong and determined to never give in to pressure"

Yet true Christian faith is always found in the minds and hearts of the People of God even if not always present in all the clergy in the institutional Church. True faith comes from belief and action following the words and actions and example of Jesus of Nazareth. It finds life in a person of absolute integrity and motivates the many thousands of good priests and laypeople and truthful bishops to take social action to implement the Gospel values.

That real faith will not be shaken no matter what the evil action of the corrupt clergy does. That is faith that flows into action for children’s rights and dignity and will empower true Christians of integrity to speak the truth, fight for the truth and welcome the truth, painful as it may be.

Pope Francis has such faith and has condemned every act of child abuse and says the victims are the most important in the Kingdom as Jesus said (Matt.18:1-7), abusers must be held accountable before the civil law and Church law, and as Jesus said a millstone be tied around the child abuser’s necks and they be thrown into the deep sea.

What message is more direct, stronger and clearer than that?

The hierarchy must change and defend the victims and bring clerical child abusers to justice. Some may be harboring alleged criminals. The abusers must be named, the prosecutors must be strong and determined to never give in to pressure and steadfastly uphold the law equally. The judges must deliver justice without fear or favor nor be intimidated by anyone in power, moral or civil, and deliver justice for the abused children.

Many dedicated prosecutors and judges are doing that. The prosecutor in Olongapo elevated the complaint of rape against the abuser, Orlando Flores Jr., of an orphaned 10-year-old child in 2021. He was convicted of rape on May 22 by Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio of the Regional Trial Court in Olongapo City.

The child was saved by social workers and therapists at the Preda home for abused children and became empowered and self-confident to give her clear testimony. The Emotional Release Therapy is where she screamed out her anger, hatred and punched the cushions as if punching her rapist. She released all the pent-up pain she was enduring and was healed. She became self-confident and strong in mind and heart. She is now free of her abuser forever.

Many more children need freedom from the pain suffered by sexual rape and assault. Justice is the best way to keep children safe by sending child sex abusers behind bars. 

*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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