Clerical child abuse revealed and justice is done

Manila Times [Manila, Philippines]

June 4, 2023

By Fr. Shay Cullen

It is that terrible time again for devout Catholics and Christians everywhere when the evil of clerical child sex abuse is revealed once again on the international stage. An investigative report on clerical child abuse released on May 23, 2023 by the attorney general said six Catholic dioceses in Illinois had declared that clerical child abuse is rife today as in the past.

The sacred trust that the people of God, followers of Jesus have in the clergy, is challenged by the truth about clerical abuse of children. If they have true faith in Jesus of Nazareth and his teaching that goodness, truth, justice, and love of neighbor and children will one day overcome and defeat evil their faith will not be shaken. They will stand firm and welcome the truth that is cleansing the Institutional Church.

In the Philippines, the cleansing has not yet happened. Child abuse cases by clergy are settled with money; the clerical abusers go free to abuse again. The truth does escape sometimes but rarely. In Cagayan, Father Israel is in jail for allegedly committing multiple rape and sexual assaults and videoing the encounters and blackmailing the child victim. He admits it but claims it was consensual. The blackmailing of the victim, however, says it was not.

In Cadiz City, Fr. Aron Buenacosa is charged since 2019 with the sexual assault of a 4-year-old. He paid bail. She testified clearly to the abuse. The judge has not made a ruling after four years in violation of a Supreme Court order. Why do we ask? Will they attempt to get the child, now 8 years old, to withdraw her complaint? That priest, like many abusive clergy, is allowed by his bishop to continue in the ministry despite Vatican instructions that abusive clergy be suspended.

In the Philippines, a powerful hierarchy makes each case an internal matter for the Church as Cardinal Antonio Tagle told the BBC. It seems some bishops believe clergy have impunity for crimes of child abuse. Few cases against priests ever get to court, and most victims and their parents are intimidated and paid to stay quiet. Such payments are in effect an admission of guilt, and, in the Philippines, it works — there has been no conviction of a priest ever.

The Church as an institution, it seems, can intimidate, influence and control some prosecutors and judges. A clear case was in Naval, Basilan, where Fr. Pius Hendrix walked free and continued in ministry after serious charges of multiple abuse of altar boys were long pending with the prosecutor without action, although a US judge found probable cause and ordered him to be brought to court under US law.

But truly dedicated prosecutors as in Cagayan and Cadiz City stood firm in doing justice. What will likely never happen in the Philippines is an independent investigation by an external team of investigators working with the Department of Justice to uncover the extent of the clerical child sexual abuse like they do in the United States or Australia and Europe.

There, investigations by the authorities independent of the hierarchy revealed wide clerical child sex abuse and the cover-up by bishops like in the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore. There, over 150 priests of the diocese were found to have sexually abused at least 600 children, and many more cases were covered up by Church officials. That is just the tip of the iceberg of clerical child abuse in Baltimore.

An investigation by the attorney general in 2018 found that six Catholic dioceses in Illinois, including Chicago, reported 103 confirmed clerical sex abusers. The investigative report published this May 23 revealed an additional 348 priest child abusers who were not reported to the authorities.

Yet true Christian faith is always found in the minds and hearts of the People of God even if not always present in all the clergy in the Institutional Church, that true faith comes from belief and action following the words and actions and example of Jesus of Nazareth. It finds life in a person of absolute integrity and motivates the many thousands of good priests and lay people and truthful bishops to take social action to implement the Gospel values.

That real faith will not be shaken no matter what evil action of child abuse corrupt clergy do. That is faith that flows into action for children’s rights and dignity and will empower true Christians of integrity to speak the truth, fight for the truth and welcome the truth, painful as it may be.

Pope Francis has such faith and has condemned every act of child abuse and says the victims are the most important in the Kingdom as Jesus said (Matt.18:1-7) and abusers must be held accountable before the civil law and Church law and as Jesus said a millstone be tied around the child abuser’s necks and they be thrown into the deep sea. (Matthew:18:7) What message is more direct, stronger and clearer than that?

The hierarchy must change and defend the victims and bring clerical child abusers to justice. Some may be harboring alleged criminals. The abusers must be named, the prosecutors must be strong and determined to never give in to pressure and steadfastly uphold the law equally. The judges must deliver justice without fear or favor nor be intimidated by anyone in power, moral or civil, and deliver justice for the abused children. Many dedicated prosecutors and judges are doing that.

A prosecutor in Olongapo City elevated the complaint of rape against the abuser Orlando Flores Jr. of an orphaned 10-year-old child in 2021. He was convicted of rape on May 22, 2023 by a just judge, Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio, of the Regional Trial Court in Olongapo City.

The child was saved by social workers and therapists at the Preda home for abused children and became empowered and self-confident to give her clear testimony. The Emotional Release Therapy is where she screamed out her anger and hatred and punched the cushions as if punching her rapist. She released all the pent-up pain she was enduring and was healed. She became self-confident and strong in mind and heart. She is now free of her abuser forever.

Many more children need freedom from the pain suffered by sexual rape and assault. Justice is the best way to keep children safe when child sex abusers are behind bars.