Challenging pedophile priests in court is possible in the Philippines. Much has changed in the country’s judiciary in the past 20 years. Prosecutors and judges in family courts are armed with laws that protect children and bring their abusers to justice.
Church influence over government prosecutors and judges has greatly diminished since the previous president, Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to expose the alleged wrongdoings of bishops and priests. The Philippine judiciary is more independent and many women prosecutors and judges, and men too, in family courts are strong, independent-minded, and will never bend to Church pressure.
There are some strong-minded prosecutors and judges holding priests accused of child abuse accountable and bringing them to court at present. The latest and most shocking investigation into clerical sexual abuse by Catholic priests has been released in a report by Attorney General Anthony Brown in Baltimore in the United States. As many as 156 priests abused more than 600 children over decades.
The victim/survivors have reported the sexual abuse by priests over the years and the archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori issued a statement of apology after the release of the report on April 5, 2023.
The report said “Time and again, members of the Church’s hierarchy resolutely refused to acknowledge allegations of child sexual abuse for as long as possible.” The archdiocese has been challenged to call all abusers to repent and submit to civil law.
In the Philippine Church, no similar investigation by an outside agency would ever happen. There is too much to deny and hide. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said on BBC some years ago that child sexual abuse in the Church is a private internal matter for the Church to deal with. Pope Francis has a different teaching, they must be held accountable to the civil authorities, no impunity is allowed.
A Catholic priest is facing justice in Cagayan. Father Israel is in jail, no bail, he is accused of alleged multiple rape and sexual assault against a 15-year-old church volunteer. Father Conrad Mantac, 62, was arrested in Sagay City in March this year for the alleged rape of a 17-year-old choir member. Sagay regional trial court Judge Reginald Fuentebella issued the arrest warrant.
Last February 2023, a Negros Occidental priest, Father Aron Buenacosa, was arrested and charged with the alleged rape of a child. The child has constantly repeated her story of the abuse done to her. The judge just has to listen and believe. “Let it be clear that before these abominations, the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes,” Pope Francis said. He warned members of the child abusing clergy, “Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
We see hope in the Philippine judiciary that is acting on Christian convictions and principles to bring healing through justice for child victims. We are hopeful that the clerics and bishops will hand over pedophile priests and not hide them away in retreat houses and therapy shelters.
The abusers get the therapy in a comfortable retreat house while the victims are abandoned, intimidated. They get no therapy, no help, no Good Samaritan to heal and help. Their parents are paid off to drop any complaint, and bribery abounds. The Philippine law is clear, to molest a child 16 years or younger is statutory rape and if one does it, they answer to the law. Justice is coming and coming swiftly.
In Iba, Zambales, Judge Maribel F. Mariano-Beltran is holding continuous hearings all day, taking testimony of the child in the morning and cross examination in the afternoon. The child victim is not stressed by the long wait of weeks, even months, before cross-examination. More recently, prosecutors are petitioning the judges to refer vulnerable children to protective homes where they are healed and empowered.
Preda Foundation social workers support 77 child victims/survivors in a residential therapeutic home. They overcome the trauma of the abuse by releasing their anger, hurt and pain through Emotional Release therapy. The children win an average of 17-18 convictions every year. In 2022 alone they won 21 convictions. Life sentences were handed down by the judge in most cases.
Until recently priests believed they could get away with the abuse because of their status, money, prestige and support of the bishop. One protective bishop calls the child abuser priest “his son.” Pope Francis called them otherwise. “Often, behind their boundless amiability, impeccably activity, and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls,” he said.
Clearly some clerics and bishops are covering up crimes. This is what brings the priesthood and our faith into disrepute. Faith is anchored in Jesus of Nazareth, his words and actions, not so much in dogmas, rites and rituals. Faith is about believing and acting on the belief that goodness, truth, and love of neighbor through social action for justice will overcome evil.
This is the challenge facing every member of the Church, the People of God: to be a person of integrity, true faith in standing against evil and loving by helping our neighbor as did the Good Samaritan healing the wounded and the abused.
Jesus of Nazareth said the child is the most important in the Kingdom and the abusers must be brought to justice. Pedophile priests and those who protect them abuse the victims again and again by denying them justice and healing. They also damage the faith of the People of God, damage the priesthood, and bring all good honest priests and religious into disrepute.
Pope Francis said that some pedophile priests and their backers, “without batting an eye,” were ready to enter into a “web of corruption” by abusing children and covering up the crimes or failing to report such sexual child abuse. Everyone has to stand and support Pope Francis and all the good people that are speaking out and demanding honesty in cleansing the church of the “filth” of clerical child abuse.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.