Catholic bishops in the Philippines are covering up "rampant sexual abuse of children by the clergy," said a missionary priest who has been working with prostituted children for the past four decades. "We have these bishops who have been covering up so much of this abuse, and we know that it is still going on," said Fr. Shay Cullen, an Irish priest and founder of the People’s Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation. Cullen, a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, told ucanews.com that the fact that clergy sex abuse cases in the Philippines is not exposed is "a big problem." A 2004 report by the non-government group Catholics for Free Choice and Likhaan stated that no priest accused of sexual abuse in the Philippines has been successfully prosecuted. Most of the clergy accused of sexual abuse settled cases out of court, were acquitted, or moved to other parishes by their bishops. There were also priests with pending court cases who were quietly reinstated to pastoral duties, the report said. In 2002, the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines apologized for the reported sexual abuses, including adultery, homosexuality and child abuse by at least 200 priests over the past 20 years.
The country's bishops then came up in 2003 with guidelines on how to deal with offences by the clergy. The 2002 admission of the Filipino bishops was the first official response from the Philippine Church on the issue of clergy sex abuse. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, former head of the bishops' conference, said 200 out of the approximately 7,000 priests in the country might have committed "sexual misconduct" including child abuse and homosexuality.
In 2003, at least 34 priests were suspended in a sex abuse scandal involving sexual harassment of women. At least 20 of the priests involved came from a single diocese. "We should bring these people to justice and get them out of the Church and into the civil courts," Cullen said in an interview. Monsignor Joselito Asis, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told ucanews.com that there is a clear protocol of reporting clergy sex abuse cases to the Vatican. "[People] think that there is a cover-up," Asis said, but the superiors or the bishops have the obligation of reporting the case to Rome after a thorough investigation. He admitted, however, that because investigations by the bishops in their respective dioceses are confidential, people think that the Church hierarchy is covering up the cases. "Every bishop has the responsibility of reporting directly to Rome," Asis said. He said that because it is Rome that instructs the bishop directly what to do, the CBCP has no idea how many cases are currently being investigated.
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Asis said that with the approval of the guidelines submitted by the country's bishops to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith in the Vatican, the procedures will be clearer. The guidelines are currently undergoing review by Philippine bishops and are scheduled to be returned to the Vatican by August.
Cullen, however, said Filipino bishops should act decisively on clerical sex abuse cases as a response to the statement of Pope Francis in April urging Church leaders to take measures against pedophile priests. The Catholic Church's "credibility" was on the line, the pope said. Cullen, however, said Church leaders are still doing too little to confront the problem despite the "strong biblical basis to take direct action." "Jesus did not talk about forgiveness and cover-up. He said put a millstone around their neck and throw them out to the ocean," Cullen said.
"We should bring these people [clergy sex abuse offenders] to justice and get them out of the Church and into the civil courts," he said.
Representative Luz Ilagan of the women's group Gabriela said the usual reaction of victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy was to keep silent, either in deference to the Church or for fear of scandal.
In at least one case, the clergy sought to protect its members by simply moving the priest to another parish, Ilagan said.
"In our culture, where there is a long history of control by the Catholic Church, there is deference to them. And then the victims feel shame. Their emotions get all mixed up, so they are afraid to report what happened," she said.
In a case in the southern city of Butuan in 2011, Gabriela called on the CBCP to issue specific directives to Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos to stop protecting a priest accused of molesting a 17 year old girl.
The priest was temporarily relieved of his duties as parish priest and reassigned to the Bishop’s Palace in the province of Caraga by Bishop Pueblos.
Cullen said there are "many good people" in the Church who are helping the victims, "but they are not confronting the Church leaders and the institution."