Seminarians are seen here inside the UST Central Seminary Chapel during their ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons in Manila in this 2014 file photo. (Photo: AFP)
While Pope Francis is adamant about fighting clerical child sex abuse, not all bishops are with him when he says that priests should be handed over to the civil authorities to answer for their sex crimes against children.
They are, it seems, exempt persons and Church officials believe they should be given impunity. No jail time like all other child rapists. The families of victims are likely paid off (not much therapy or healing for the victims) and the prosecutors are pressured to dismiss the cases against priests. Have we ever heard of a conviction of a priest for child abuse?
They are most likely sent to the retreat house in Tagaytay, Rizal, south of Manila. They may be transferred to another parish or diocese, but bishops will not accept a transferee-abusing priest nowadays. In the past, they were sent abroad but some reoffended and abused children in the United States and fled back to the Philippines.
In the Philippines, several priests have been charged in Marakina, Cadiz and Cagayan Provence, and Naval to name a few, but they seldom come to trial and conviction. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, now in Rome (he recently had to step down as head of Caritas), has said in TV interviews that child abuse cases against priests are an internal matter for the Church.
"Thousands of good priests should demand that the bishops change and bring the clerical child rapist to justice"
So, it is wrong that the great shame of being part of a Church institution that covers up crimes against children must be tolerated in silence by thousands of hardworking, dedicated, holy priests. Why they stay silent is a mystery for most lay people. They do little to remove this dark shadow cast on their priesthood by hierarchical policy and practice. They have to suffer their whole priestly lives in silence surrounded by untouchable pedophile peers.
Clerical child abuse should not be tolerated by anybody and to know it happens and not act is to condone it. Thousands of good priests should demand that the bishops change and bring the clerical child rapist to justice and answer for his crimes and be removed from the sacred priesthood if found guilty. However, perhaps they know it is impossible in the Philippines to find a priest guilty; the conspiracy to protect the abuser is very strong.
It is well established that child sexual abuse is widespread. One in every three girls is a victim and it is a crime committed in secret with intimidation and the victims rarely complain and report the crime. The young immature victims are frightened, intimidated by threats against them or their family and afraid they will not be believed and may be punished for making the allegations against a relative or any person in authority.
Many children do not know what to do or how to complain and report abuse to adults and many do not know that they can take legal action against their abusers in court. They need supportive adults who know the gravity of sexual abuse, its damaging impact and are determined to see the child gets help and therapy and justice. If the Church authorities do not do it then the laity must. But do they have the courage and the power?
More professional therapy homes to heal and empower victims are urgently needed to help them get justice in the courts. If the victims are referred to Preda homes they will be protected from pressure and interference and justice will be fought for to the end.
Members of the public have to act to help and save children. Extensive community education about child abuse is essential if we are to reduce the level of abuse. All duty-bearers should have greater sympathy and understanding for rebellious children such as street children, many of whom are victims of sexual, physical or psychological abuse in their homes or in the neighborhood, in school and in the Church.
"The more child rapists are imprisoned, the more children will be safe"
That’s how it was with Cherry (not her real name.) She lives in Caloocan City and she dropped out of school and wandered the streets at 13. She began stealing and going with gangs, drinking and other vices. She had no motherly love. Her mother left the family years previously and her father and grandmother cared for her. She was sent to a government center for wayward children and after five months, one day, she revealed to her grandmother that she had been raped six times by a neighbor, Bernabe Serrano y Viscera, between 2016 and April 2018. With no healing shelter in Caloocan, she was brought to the Preda Foundation in Zambales to recover and heal from the abuse.
In the Preda home, Cherry became empowered with the help of many therapies, including the very effective emotional release therapy where, in the therapy room, she cried and shouted her anger and hatred for her abuser. She filed her case and won.
The judge of the Caloocan Family Court believed her and sentenced Bernabe Serrano y Viscera to four life sentences. The more child rapists are imprisoned, the more children will be safe and the message that justice will be done will deter others from abusing children. Another victory by and for Preda children.
The case of 14-year old Angie (not her real name) is shocking and instructive and can serve as a warning to would-be child sex offenders. Her grandfather started sexually abusing Angie when her grandmother was out of the house. He threatened the child and repeated the sexual act many times. Angie was so frightened and scared she dared not report the rape to anyone. Angie’s father was dead and her mother was an overseas domestic worker.
On Feb 6, 2020, her grandfather sexually abused her yet again. This time, Angie was again very angry and so much so she found the courage to tell her mother what her grandfather was doing to her. Her mother called the principal and a teacher at her school and asked them to help Angie. They took her to the municipal social worker and the police station. They interviewed the child and referred her to the Preda Foundation home in Subic, Zambales since there was no healing and therapy center in Mariveles. She got therapy and help like Cherry and filed her case and won.
The judge believed the clear testimony of Angie and sentenced Lorenzo Figuracion to life in prison. The huge fines levied on him will never be paid to Angie but it is enough that she found victory and justice at last.
Another case resolved this past week after three and half years was against human trafficker Allyana Ysabel Fernandez. She recruited and lured 11 minors, the youngest only 15, to a hotel in Mabiga, Mabalacat, Pampanga on March 4, 2019 to sell them to customers for sex. Fernandez was found guilty of human trafficking and sentenced to life in prison, according to the court decision issued on Nov 17 — another victory for Preda children.
The victims/survivors after their time in the Preda home for trafficked victims have all been reintegrated in their families and are living a more normal, happier life of dignity. There are currently 63 children at the Preda home healing and recovering from rape and online abuse.
*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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