Docs’ Help ‘Not Enough’ for Erring Priest

By Linette C. Ramos
Sun.Star [Philippines]
December 8, 2003

PSYCHIATRIC treatment has been prescribed for priests involved in sexual misconduct since the early 1980s, but psychiatrists believe that such treatment is not enough to reform erring members of the clergy.

Since it is not guaranteed that the priest will no longer commit sexual abuses after treatment is completed, church officials must assign the erring priest where he will not have contact with a possible victim, psychiatrists said.

They also believe that clergy members who repeatedly molest individuals have no place in the priesthood and should be defrocked if the offense is committed twice.

Dr. Cornelio Banaag Jr., president of the Asean Federation for Psychiatry and Mental Health, said psychiatric intervention may be futile if the priest is retained in the same environment.

He said that in cases of sexual misconduct involving priests in the country and in the United States, priests were able to commit offenses repeatedly because their victims were easily accessible.

“So obviously, psychiatric intervention is not enough. Priests involved in scandals need more help. They need to be reassigned in areas where they would not have contact with possible victims,” Banaag told Sun.Star.


He stressed that even if a priest is already transferred to a new environment, he should still have follow-up treatment.

“A new environment would help but for as long as they are doing the same thing, you’re just allowing them to create more problems so they have to have some treatment,” Banaag added.

As a standard procedure in the Cebu Archdiocese, priests accused of sexual misconduct are immediately referred to a psychiatrist for possible therapeutic intervention, archdiocesan media liaison officer Msgr. Achilles Dakay said.

Dakay said that the archdiocese’s assistance program for priests in crisis and their rehabilitation consist of different components and medical intervention is only one of them.

“We even send some of the priests to rehabilitation centers outside Cebu if needed. This is a standard procedure. The people can’t say that the church is not doing anything about erring priests. Just because they cannot see what is being done, it doesn’t mean gipasagdan ra na sila,” Dakay said in a separate interview.

Aside from the archdiocese-owned rehabilitation center for erring priests in Oslob town, Dakay said there are also psychiatrists in Cebu City whom priests can run to for help anytime, like Cebuano psychiatrist Dr. Pureza O?ate.


In the “Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuse and Misconduct by the Clergy,” the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines agreed that a priest who fathers a child will be given sanctions.

Those who father two children will be expelled from the priesthood.

Priests accused of homosexual acts would be sent to a church-run rehabilitation center but if the act is repeated, he would also be defrocked.

O?ate and Banaag, who were interviewed during the 9th Asean Federation for Psychiatry and Mental Health Congress at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel last Friday, agree that psychiatric intervention is not enough to stop priests from committing sexual abuse.

For O?ate, other human behavior factors, like freedom, play a more important role than the therapeutic intervention of professionals in the treatment of a patient.

“Just like other forms of psychiatric treatment, we can’t guarantee that sexual abuse will not recur because there is still freedom on the part of the offender. There should be willingness and insight on the part of the person being treated,” O?ate said.


She added that the treatment of priests in crisis must be a team approach where a team of psychologists and psychiatrists conducts counseling and psychometric testing.

Banaag said that the treatment for priests involved in sexual abuse of young boys is complicated since it will involve counseling and numerous psychological tests for homosexuals.

It will also be difficult to determine whether it is already safe for priests to return to their parishes because chances of recurrence will remain high.

“It’s very complicated that is why they need continued counseling, but whether that is enough or not, we don’t know. There is no other treatment for homosexuals but psychological. And even after they get help, it’s hard to say if they can return to their parishes,” he added.

In most cases, O?ate said it will depend on the nature of the abuse and how often it was committed.

“If after the first offense the assessment of the psychiatrist is that it’s not a serious problem, it will only require continuous treatment. But kanang magbalik-balik na offense, dili na gyud na. The priest should be removed at once if it’s repeated. There’s no place for them in the priesthood,” O?ate said.

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