In Philippines, a child alleges abuse by priest and tests Vatican promise for global reckoning

Washington Post

June 23, 2020

By Shibani Mahtani and Regine Cabato

[Includes video with interview of teacher.]

Cadiz City, Philippines — The girl, her long hair in a ponytail, stepped into the cramped, dimly lit courtroom, her first time in such a place. Clinging to her mother, she scanned the dozens of faces assembled before her. The girl, then 5 years old, eventually pointed to a bald man in a striped shirt, his spectacles resting on his head.

She appeared nervous and did not speak his name.

Her slight gesture in September — identifying the Rev. Aron Buenacosa as the man who sexually assaulted her — began the rare trial in the Philippines of a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Her case, in this quiet village on a central Philippine island, will also test Pope Francis’s pledge of an “all-out battle” to confront sexual abuse in all corners of the Catholic world.

The historical reckoning over abuse and coverups has gripped the church in the West for decades. But far fewer public cases have come from other parts of the Catholic world, including Africa, Asia and the pontiff’s homeland in Latin America.

A Philippine family takes on the Catholic Church after priest is accused of molesting their daughter
In some cases, the reasons are institutional: legal systems not built to handle abuse cases, the traditional role of church leaders in politics, and prosecutors unwilling to go against the powers of the church.

How the Vatican deals with new allegations of abuse from these regions could define Francis’s papacy and reflect on his acknowledgment that the church has unfinished business in dealing with its scandals.

The trial in the Philippines — Asia’s largest Catholic-majority country — is such a moment.

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