Buried memories of clerical sexual abuse revealed

Manila Times [Manila, Philippines]

February 19, 2023

By Fr. Shay Cullen

A CATHOLIC Church Commission has concluded after only six months of investigating child sexual abuse by priests in Portugal that only 4,815 victims were identified, but said it was the tip of a great iceberg of abuse that is yet to be revealed. The report of the commission was published on Feb. 13, 2023. Critics and supporters of clerical child abuse victims said there were many thousands more victims, not given the opportunity to come forward. The victims were mostly boys 10 to 14 years old.

Several bishops and priests in Portugal who have been accused of child abuse are still in their church duties and positions, and allegedly flout the Vatican law supported by Pope Francis, whereby the civil authorities should investigate and prosecute such allegations. A shocking report in France in January 2022 found approximately 3,000 Catholic priests and religious authorities had sexually abused over 200,000 children since the 1960s. In the Philippines, many priests who fled the law in the United States accused of child abuse are serving in dioceses around the Philippines, according to child protection organizations in the US.

Most of the child victims had hidden away the history of their abuse by priests who are 77 percent of the abusers because of the stigma attached to victims and the fear of not being believed, being rejected, criticized and excluded from the community by going against the authorities. That is how it is in the Philippines today. No priest has been convicted of child sexual abuse.

The Catholic Church hierarchy has built up a false culture of impunity whereby all priests are considered sacred and can do no wrong. Seldom, if ever, is any priest convicted of crimes since cover-ups and payoffs to the victims to drop their complaints are common practices by church authorities. The teenage victim in Cagayan, northern Philippines, called Angelica (not her real name), who is being assisted by the Preda Foundation, was offered a full scholarship up to college by another priest from the diocese of Tuguegarao if she would withdraw her complaint of multiple rape and sexual assault by a priest from Solana, Tuguegarao. She and her parents refused the offer. A payoff is the usual way the church authorities settle child abuse cases against priests and the accused is allowed to continue to serve in the church as if nothing evil had happened.

Child victims of abuse supported by the Preda legal office win an average of 15 convictions every year. Recently, children supported by the Preda Foundation found justice after a strong, clear presentation of evidence by Fiscal Junie Esplana. The family court of Judge April Joy Magsayo-Aguila of Angeles City declared in separate cases two female human traffickers guilty beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced them to life in prison.

A 6-year-old child — call her Rica — also found justice. She was protected and healed from trauma by the Preda children’s home after being raped by her biological father, and bravely told her story to the judge. Her father was pronounced guilty and sentenced to life in jail by the no-nonsense family court in Olongapo City of Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio after a powerful prosecution by Fiscal Santos. The rapists and traffickers will not abuse or traffic children ever again and can repent and do penance in jail.

Therapists in the Preda Foundation’s Emotional Release Therapy room can see and hear the suffering and trauma in the cries and screams of the abused children when they release the anger and feelings of hatred and fight back against the powerful, cruel abuser in therapy.

But when first abused, the child victims have no chance to fight back. They are overpowered, intimidated and struck dumb with fear of what evil the abuser might do to them or their family with scary threats of greater violence if the child victims ever report what happened to them. The small, vulnerable children live in fear and shame. They are even afraid to tell their own parents lest they be blamed or punished for accusing their abuser who might be a family member or a priest, teacher or neighbor for raping or molesting them.

Other victims are brainwashed into believing it is normal and natural for them to have a sexual relationship with an adult. Other victims can’t tell anyone because they are being blackmailed by the abuser with a video of the abuse that he threatens to post on social media and send to their parents and schoolmates. The child is deprived of a free choice and cannot give consent.

The child victims have deep anger with a deeply buried pain caused by the abusers and have no chance to get justice, to fight back, to denounce their attacker and rapist. They live in a dark silence that affects everything in their lives. It is only where there is an independent international commission to investigate can victims tell their stories. The Philippine Church needs such a commission to reveal the abusers and bring them to justice as Christianity and the gospel demand.

Rapists and pedophiles imbedded in the priesthood and church authorities who protect them are adding to the abuse and insulting the victims and their parents and throwing a shadow of doubt over thousands of good honest clergy serving their people with a commitment to the gospel but who remain silent when they know of clerical abuse. If they report to Preda.org the name and address of a child victim and the suspect, then justice will be done.

Children cannot report abuse if the sexual abuser is a powerful official. That is the case of a child from Zamboanga — call her Rosie — being helped by the Preda Foundation. She was only 6 years old when she was sexually abused by a barangay (village) official when she went to his house with a friend to watch a DVD.

He threatened her to tell no one and raped her several more times over the years. Out of fear, she could tell no one and dared not speak against a powerful person. She buried the memory and Rosie lived with stress, tension and fear. But after several years of living in fear, one day, Rosie met a cousin who showed kindness and understanding to her, and she told of her ordeal and abuse by the barangay official. Her cousin told her mother and with the help of her aunt, a religious sister, Rosie was brought to the Preda Foundation to heal and recover.

She took the Emotional Release Therapy and began to cry for the first time. After several sessions, she opened up and was shouting at her abuser and finally fighting back. She became emotionally stronger and clear in her mind and feelings, and was able to tell her story. Then she filed a case against her abuser. Rosie is hoping for justice and an end to her suffering. Justice for children must be done and is seen to be done.