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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.

Old clerical abuse habits die hard in the Philippines

Filipino youths and children take part in a dance exercise in suburban Manila in this Feb. 6, 2016 photo, to draw attention to sexual abuse of women and children as part of the 'One Billion Rising' campaign against such abuse

Filipino youths and children take part in a dance exercise in suburban Manila in this Feb. 6, 2016 photo, to draw attention to sexual abuse of women and children as part of the 'One Billion Rising' campaign against such abuse.  (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 17, 2023 03:16 AM GMT
One serious case shows how some Church authorities still look to cover up sex attacks on minors

The many incidents of child sexual abuse by predator priests have shamed thousands of good bishops and benevolent clerics who have been justly angered by the rampant salacious acts of their fellow pedophile priests and in some cases by high-profile bishops and high-ranking cardinals. 

They feel helpless when their bishop protects the abuser priest and calls him “his son.” 

They long for justice for the victims and wish to exonerate their own vocation and the blemished priesthood from the tyranny of abuser priests. 

The Church has succinctly stated that every act of sexual abuse against a child is not only a heinous crime in civil law but a violation of Church law. 

Pope Francis says child abuse by a cleric is “a profound wound that cries out for healing.”

There are many occasions when bishops have been scolded by Pope Francis for covering up priest-abuse complaints instead of reaching out to help the victims, and find them therapy, healing and justice. 

They often try to buy off the child victim and the family with money and promises of a resourceful life. 

This is exactly what happened in Cagayan Province, Northern Philippines, last year. 

The latest wound suffered by a child (Angelica, not her real name) happened when she was 15 years of age. 

She complained of being raped and sexually assaulted many times by a priest, Karole Reward Ubina Israel, 29, assistant parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Solana, Cagayan.

According to court records, the priest from the Diocese of Tuguegarao, the most populous city in Cagayan, was arrested in the act of committing a crime of child seduction and abuse on Oct. 18, 2022, in a rescue and arrest operation planned and approved by Hector Eduard Geologo, regional director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Cagayan Province. 

The arrest was conducted by NBI sleuth Jonimar Tongdo and his team with the active cooperation of the victim’s parents.

Angelica, now 16, was a member of the parish youth group. Father Israel was its director with moral ascendancy and authority over it. Angelica, then 15 years old, was invited by Father Israel on Feb 8, 2022, out for dinner. 

According to her, he blindfolded her and drove to Aparri in Cagayan. At 2 a.m. the next morning, when they returned to Solana, the predator priest started molesting her by touching her private parts and kissing her. 

She was shocked and got out of the car and ran all the way home. She was frightened to tell her parents lest they would not believe her and blame her for making serious allegations against an influential priest.

It did not end there. The priest later asked Angelica to meet him again to apologize for what happened. So, she went to the church, but the priest pushed her into his car and drove to a hotel in Tuguegarao City and raped her. 

He took secret videos of their sexual act on his cell phone and sent them to her and threatened to show them on social media if she dared to share the details and refused to have sex with him again and again. 

Thus, the priest succeeded in making the child his sex slave and a victim of sexual grooming.

He raped her many a time and even found time to have sex with her on Holy Thursday, the peak of Holy Week!

These sexual acts took place in different places — in the same hotel, in his car, at the school, and in a memorial park.

Angelica was traumatized by the fear of disgrace. She was depressed and attempted to kill herself three times. 

Angelica’s teachers, John Michael Bassig and Maria Christina de Asis, got a message from a friend of Angelica, saying she was depressed and suicidal. They talked with her and Angelica found the courage to finally overcome her fear and told them how the priest molested, raped and blackmailed her. They later told the parents about the predator priest.

They sought the help of the NBI, who arranged a trap. They planned a meeting between Angelica and the cleric and arrested him when he attempted to abuse her again in his car. 

His surrendered cell phone had it all: There were six clips of sex videos, recorded audio calls, screenshots of conversations whereby the accused demanded the child to have sex with him and evidence of blackmail and sexual abuse and threats. 

Though the prosecutor, Kathleen Joy Ruiz Zuniega, sent them to court, Father Israel walked free after paying 183,000 pesos (US$3,355) to secure bail, even though rape charges are non-bailable in the Philippines. The second set of charges, multiple rape and sexual assault and video voyeurism — 18 in all — were made by regular filing.

These charges of qualified rape, multiple counts of rape and sexual assault were the contents of the powerfully detailed resolution of Assistant City Prosecutor Kristine R. Marallag-Ave and approved by City Prosecutor Jessie B. Usita on Dec. 27, 2022. 

In his counter affidavit, the accused priest denied all the charges and insisted that the child and himself were lovers and it was an act of sex with consent. He also asked the prosecutor to disallow the video evidence. But the request was turned down. 

The prosecutor pointed out that sexual acts against the will of a vulnerable child, even if they were so-called “lovers,” which they were not, are still heinous crimes of child rape. The recorded voice message of the priest to the victim where he was repeatedly cursing her in vitriolic language shows he was in total control of the situation. 

Priests and the pious faithful are awaiting the opening of the trial where the victim will give testimony. 

Father Rino Guaring, most likely on behalf of Tuguegarao diocese, and relatives of Father Israel, went to Angelica’s house to settle the case out of court. He promised money and a standard college education if she withdrew the complaints. 

The victim and her family refused. 

The parents contacted the Preda Foundation, which works to alleviate “the physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse and suffering of children,” in writing, asking for help.

Justice for the abused children is a powerful call by made Jesus of Nazareth and justice for the abuser is equally important. The church institution has wrongly protected the pedophile priest for too long. That is condemned by Pope Francis and is a crime in the Church and civil law.
Bishops are challenged to protect vulnerable children and bring child rapists to justice so they can repent, confess and do penance, behind bars as is necessary.
*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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