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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 clerical child abusers must face civil courts

Philippine clerical child abusers must face civil courts

Activists perform in a happening against members of the Polish Church hierarchy who had been covering up sex scandals in Krakow on Dec. 6, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 11, 2021 03:05 AM GMT
The Church continues to hide such crimes by paying off or intimidating victims and families

The attention of most adults is primarily focused on what they consider to be the most important reality in the world — themselves, especially many clerics. Yet there is one overriding unassailable truth that stands above all else in the teachings of the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth.

The truth that 2.38 billion Christians, including 1.33 billion Roman Catholics, have supposedly bound themselves to accept and obey is that children are the most important people in the Kingdom of God. To accept, recognize and affirm a child with that exalted status and dignity is to accept Jesus himself.

That’s what he said and taught, and for which he gave his life. He stood a child before them and declared: “Unless you change and become as innocent as this little child, you will never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child, and whoever welcomes in my name one such child, welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)

That teaching astounded the leaders of Palestine in his day where they had rejected Jesus and thereby rejected all children. For them, the child, especially girls, had no status at all. They were non-persons. Jesus demanded that they and all the poor be affirmed, respected and their rights fully recognized.

The leaders in Jerusalem rejected that and branded Jesus a subversive, a rebel and killed him for it. Let’s remember that every time we look upon a crucifix.

It seems like some modern clerical prelates are doing the same. As we celebrate on Oct. 11 the International Day of the Girl Child, we recognize their sacred dignity and God-given rights, but we are also hit with more outrageous clerical child abuse revelations.

Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims

The latest is the horrific and stupefying revelation about the French Church and child sexual abuse by 3,000 priests and male church officials. A devastating report found that at least 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse by clergy and lay members of church institutions over the past 70 years ... that staggering number of children were subjected to sexual violence by priests and clergy while the crimes were covered up in a “systemic way” by a deliberate “veil of silence” in the Church.

Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the investigative committee, told a press conference: “Until the early 2000s, the Catholic Church showed a profound and even cruel indifference towards the victims.” 

We have seen similar shocking reports and revelations in most Western countries in recent years. Our first response is to stand with the victims and survivors. We denounce the abuse and offer the victims help, support, understanding and robust legal assistance to bring the abusers to justice.

While we give the victims, girls and boys (many now older) comfort, help and compensation, we must pursue legal action against the abusers and their enablers.

The most important legislation needed worldwide is to cancel and revoke the legislation on the statute of limitations for crimes against children and actively pursue legal action to bring the abusers to justice. The accused abusers can then hear the testimony of their victims and confess, repent, atone and accept penance in jail for abusing children. 

That is the needed action, not for good Christians to surrender in shame and humiliation at the revelations of these heinous clerical crimes. True believers and committed Christians have to fight back against such evil, not be overwhelmed by the revelations, not be crushed in spirit and intimidated by the crimes of others.

These clerical abusers must not be protected, transferred away, and their crimes covered up by the Church or government officials. We must be angry at this evil as Jesus was when the disciples scolded the people bringing children to him to bless.

“When Jesus noticed this, he was angry, and said to his disciples, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child, will never enter into it.’ Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on each of them and blessed them”. (Mark 10:13-16) 

The disciples, like the Pharisees and Elders, thought children had no value either and were unworthy to be blessed.  

We have to take a stand with the abused and follow the example of Jesus himself and stand for the rights of the victims/survivors and dedicate ourselves to expose and bring every single child-abusing perpetrator to justice.

In the Philippines, victims of clerical child abuse and families are paid off or intimidated not to file or pursue charges

Jesus showed the way himself when after placing a child in front of the crowd he said: “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and he be drowned in the deep sea. How terrible for the world that there are things that cause people to lose their faith. Such things will always happen, but how terrible for the one who causes them.”

How right he is. There will always be hypocrites, child rapists and clerics who sexually abuse and neglect children.

That’s a call for justice and accountability, not a call for the death penalty. A priest or layperson who abuses a child destroys the trust of that child in Jesus of Nazareth and in all adults, especially if it is a priest or a parent who abuses the child.

If anyone knows of child abuse, it is our urgent duty to denounce the crimes and report the abuse. Silence about child abuse is consent. We have to do it. Report abuse in confidence to [email protected].

The Philippine Church has hidden such crimes and continues to do so. Cardinal Luis Tagle said in a television interview on BBC’s Hard Talk that the Philippine Church deals with clerical child abuse internally. Since then, Pope Francis has ruled that clerical abusers must face civil courts. Dealing internally with abuse means the crimes are covered up and the abuser most likely continues his abuse. This must stop. 

In the Philippines, victims of clerical child abuse and families are paid off or intimidated not to file or pursue charges. That has to end and abusers have to be brought to a civil court and wear a millstone — that is, do jail time where they cannot abuse more children. Whatever the loss of trust in the institution, we all hold fast to our faith in Jesus of Nazareth and his words.

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