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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.

There's little accountability for clergy abuse in Philippines

Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists in Rome for a papal summit, display photos of Barbara Blaine, the late founder and president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), during a protest of abuse victims on Piazza del Popolo in Rome on Feb. 23, 2019

Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists in Rome for a papal summit, display photos of Barbara Blaine, the late founder and president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), during a protest of abuse victims on Piazza del Popolo in Rome on Feb. 23, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 03, 2023 11:58 AM GMT
Priests charged or convicted of child sexual abuse are still active in dioceses under the protection of bishops

Some of the best and well written-child protection laws are in the Philippines. However, it is enforcement that is lacking. There are few convictions of child abusers. Without the rule of law being enforced, there will never be an end to child sexual abuse. Right now, the Philippines is like “a fun house of sexual abuse” with international connections through online abuse.

At a recent meeting with five judges in Cebu, the Preda Foundation’s president, Francis Bermido Jr., and Executive Director Emmanuel Drewery were earnestly requested to open a therapeutic healing center/home for girl victims of sexual abuse and exploitation in the city.

The Preda Foundation with German partner Aktionsgruppe already manages a successful home for boys in Liloan, Cebu. That project rescues teenagers from horrible subhuman conditions in government detention cells and empowers them to start a new positive life based on spiritual values and education.

The five judges explained that young girl victims of abuse do not show up to testify. It is likely that they have been threatened by the family of the accused. Without the testimony of the child, the case has to be dismissed.

“There is no justice without protection and testimony of the victim,” they rightly said.

The judges know the significant track record of the children empowered and healed at a Preda home in Zambales, winning no less than a stunning 21 convictions of their 17 abusers and three traffickers in court cases.

These convictions ensure that these perpetrators go to jail and can no longer pose a threat to any children. Most abusers convicted received life sentences. The judges want the same victories for child victims in Cebu.

According to the official Preda published report: “The legal complaints were filed by a total of 32 child victim-survivors (29 females, 3 males). Of these 32 victims, 17 are children-victims of human trafficking, 14 are victims of sexual abuse/rape and one is a victim of physical abuse.”

The pending arrest and jailing without the possibility of bail of Catholic priest Karole Reward Ubiña Israel, 29, assistant parish priest in Solana, Cagayan, has shaken up the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Judge Dennis Mendoza of the Regional Trial Court Branch 4, Tuguegarao City issued an arrest warrant against the priest on multiple rape and sexual assault charges of a 15-year-old church volunteer “Angelica” (not real name) who is being supported by the Preda Foundation.

The child with her parents rejected an offer by another priest of the diocese of free education to college if she dropped the charges. She and her parents refused and demanded justice. Such attempts to cover up the crimes of priests are illegal according to Church law as the pope said in his apostolic letter Vos estis lux mundi.

The many good priests and bishops defending human rights and child victims will welcome the possibility of justice for Angelica as Jesus of Nazareth said children are the most important in the world and abusers should receive penance as a millstone tied around their necks and be thrown into the sea (Matthew 18:1-7).

Youth and child victims of clerical abuse and their supporting parents can take heart in reporting abuse. They are supported by Pope Francis and the Vatican committee on the protection of children, and the Preda Foundation.

In June 2021, the Vatican published a new code of Canon law dealing with child abuse in the Church. It is clear and specific in directing that bishops must take immediate action to investigate abuse by a cleric when a complaint is made. Otherwise, they can be charged with cover-up and be removed from their position of authority.

In Vos estis lux mundi, the pope states that Church authorities must follow civil law and report child sexual abuse to "the competent civil authorities."

The historical papal instruction says that "actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical [Church] investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious" for sexual abuse are forbidden under penalty.

When I personally met Pope Francis in 2015 at the Vatican as a consultant on child protection, he was adamant to end child abuse in the church and the world. His apostolic letter which has become part of Canon Law warns anyone in the Church or parish that tries to harass or interfere with the family of a child victim in a complaint against a priest. Anyone who does can be charged with attempted obstruction of justice and harassment.

Bishops warned about pedophile priests must take action to protect potential victims. There are priests protected by bishops working in Philippine dioceses who have been charged or convicted of child sexual abuse and some are named in the report “Clergy Misconduct among Priests in the Philippines: Key Cases.” This was published on the website of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) at www.snapnetwork.org.

There are only 12 named and all deny the allegations. It includes six priests who are wanted by US authorities accused of child sexual abuse in the USA. More arrests are possible. One of the 12 is Father JS, a priest in the Diocese of Bohol who is on a diocesan committee. He was convicted of abusing a 15-year-old boy in Michigan in 1988. He is still allegedly working with children.

Another Father, AD, is active in the Diocese of Sorsogon. He is accused of sexual abuse of a teenager in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which he denies. When it surfaced that Father AD was in a diocese in the Philippines, Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahoney wrote to the Vatican saying Father AD should not be in a ministry involving young people.

The report also mentions a Father M “B” M, a Benedictine, who is teaching at a school in Manila but who fled from the United States after three child victims' families accepted financial out-of-court settlements. He is wanted for questioning by police. He denied all allegations.

Another active parish priest, Father A. ”J” M, an Augustinian, allegedly admitted to sexually molesting three boys in Cebu City but was never brought to accountability. The list goes on.

Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of bishopsaccountability.org, said that Pope Francis “can help prevent and stop the dangerous practices of Filipino bishops that surely are enabling the sexual abuse of children and young people.”

Whatever the outcome of the trial of Father Israel, it will show that the judicial system is strong and unafraid of clerical influence and is working in defending the rights of abused children.

*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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