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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.

Philippine Church must let law take its own course

The Vatican wants bishops to report child sex abuse cases to civil authorities even when there is no explicit legal obligation to do so

The Vatican wants bishops to report child sex abuse cases to civil authorities even when there is no explicit legal obligation to do so. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 31, 2023 04:06 AM GMT
Pope Francis has forbidden attempts to obstruct justice and asks to turn over clerical child abusers to civil authorities

The institutional Church in the Philippines has never had a priest jailed for child sexual abuse so far because as Cardinal Antonio Tagle told the BBC's Hardtalk TV program, it was an internal affair handled by Church authorities. That policy is now changing as Pope Francis and the Vatican have forbidden such handling. The days of impunity are past. Or are they? 

In the past, in every case settled out of court, the excessive authority and influence of the Church authorities overwhelmed the victims and their families. The parish community could pressure them to drop charges of sexual abuse against a priest and “not go against the Church.”

Pope Francis has forbidden that and such attempts can be a crime, obstruction of justice and a violation of Vatican rules now in place. The current policy asks to turn over a clerical child abuser to civil authorities and not hide him behind the bishop’s chair.

Last week a court in the Philippines filed charges against a Catholic priest, accusing him of multiple counts of rape and sexual assault on a minor girl, and recording the crimes on video.

The resolution of Assistant City Prosecutor Kristine R. Marallag-Ave in Tuguegarao City will elevate the case to the court and Father Karole Reward Ubina Israel will be arrested again. He is charged with 11 counts of rape and six sexual assaults and making three videos of his child sex abuse acts.

The newly ordained Israel of Cagayan diocese was first arrested last October, at the age of 28 following the allegations and he was freed on bail. Angelica (not her real name) was allegedly raped and assaulted by Father Israel when she was 15, according to the resolution of Marallag-Ave.

"More victims of clerical child abuse are surely watching this case closely hoping for a possible Philippine 'MeToo' movement"

The diligent prosecutor resolved the complaint saying there is probable cause that rape was committed 11 times and sexual assault six times by Israel, who was then an assistant parish priest. The resolution also states he violated laws when he made videos taping these sexual encounters.

According to Angelica, he sent her the videos and blackmailed her, threatening to post them online if she told anyone of the abuse and ordered her to submit to his vile lust and crimes. In his affidavit, the priest admitted the sexual encounters but claimed it was consensual sex. The prosecutor rejected that claim with forceful legal arguments to the contrary.

The law against video recording sexual encounters does not apply in this case since it was signed into law on March 4, 2022. The full text of the resolution and other laws and legal opinions show that the use of moral authority over a child makes it impossible for that child to give consent to her rape and abuse.

Many more victims of clerical child abuse are surely watching this case closely hoping for a possible Philippine "MeToo" movement.

It is a happy day when I can write about victories and convictions. Prosecutors are fighting hard for child rights and are winning important convictions. Judges, too, believe the testimonies of children with horrifying accounts of multiple rape and sexual assault by biological fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, and Catholic priests. These are great victories for those who hunger or thirst for justice and have had their fill.

The children endure, survive and find the courage to overcome the fear of rejection, anger and hatred of their abusers and their families when they point a finger and say to the court and the world, “He raped me.” That’s a powerful courageous allegation to make and why would they if it were not true? The wise experienced judges of family courts know and accept these truths.

The amazing survival stories and court cases with dedicated prosecutors and good judges give victory to raped and abused children.

Areza (not her real name) is one of them. When she was eight years old, Areza played with a rag doll that she called her sister because she had no family. Her father had died years ago and, abandoned by her mother, Areza was left with her two uncles. The younger Kharlo Rondolo, 27, began to rape Areza continually and frightened her into silence until she was 14. At 13, her other uncle started to rape her also.

"The judge found no reasonable doubt whatsoever as to the guilt of the accused uncle and pronounced him guilty"

When she was 14, something changed in Areza. The emotional and mental paralysis ended and she told her cousin in Subic. They went to a social worker in the town of Subic who sent Areza to an aunt in Castillejos and failed to help Areza bring formal complaints against her uncles. Areza found a social worker in Castillejos and spoke about her ordeal. She was referred to the Preda home for abused children in Sakatihan, Subic.

At the Preda home for abused children, she found peace and protection and the freedom to tell all that had happened to her. She joined Emotional Release Therapy sessions in a padded therapy room with other girls and poured out her hurt and pain and anger.

She healed, recovered and was empowered to fight for justice. The uncle’s only defense was denial. The long-experienced judge, Hon. Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio, summed up the evidence clearly. Interestingly, her decision stated, “Thus in the case of People Vs. Tulagan, it was pronounced that force, threat or intimidation as an element of rape is substituted by “moral ascendency or moral authority.”

This will apply in the case of Angelica. The judge found no reasonable doubt whatsoever as to the guilt of the accused uncle and pronounced him guilty. He will spend the rest of his life in prison thanks to the diligent prosecutor, Bernardine Santos, and Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio.

I told you the story last September of Tessie, a similar story to Areza, made a sex slave by her family, abused continually by her father, brother and their drinking buddies. Her sister was also sexually abused. Tessie, after years of sexual abuse, told a neighbor, a kind woman, of her suffering. Tessie was referred to the Preda home for protection from perhaps the evilest crime of multiple rapes ever.

In Emotional Release Therapy, Tessie was healed and empowered like Areza was. Helped by prosecutor, Bernardine Santos, she bravely filed charges against her abusers. Together, Tessie and Prosecutor Santos won in December 2022 the conviction of her father’s drinking buddy. He was sentenced to life in prison.

On Jan. 23, she won another victory — the conviction of her father who had raped her many times. Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio summed it up after a long trial. “The court gave credence to the positive declaration of the minor that she was raped by her father than the mere denial of the accused.” Her rapist father was sentenced to life in prison. Tessie’s sister has also filed a formal complaint against her older brother who raped her several times. We await the outcome.

Another victory celebration is due for 15-year-old Jemmi. She won the conviction of Florentino Aldea for sexual assault after a very convincing case strongly fought in the Family Court in Olongapo City by prosecutor, Bernadine Santos. Aldea got bail and has filed an appeal at the Court of Appeals. He and his family could harass Jemmi. She does not feel full freedom while the convicted abuser is free.

*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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