Priest Who Had Sex with Boys Now Tells How to Smuggle Ivory

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
September 18, 2012

Monsignor Cristobal Garcia was supposed to be kept away from children -- but we found him working with a squad of altar boys. (File 2005/Staff photo)

National Geographic‘s new issue exposes the ivory business, which has been hiding in plain sight since a worldwide trade ban was enacted in 1989. And a major player in the magazine’s story is a priest in the Philippines whom I wrote about in 2005 when investigating another global-trafficking phenomenon — the Catholic Church’s movement of sexual abuse suspects across international borders to escape justice.

The priest, Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, is now quoted as explaining how to smuggle ivory into the United States: “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it.” And if an icon won’t fit in a suitcase? Here’s how National Geographic‘s Bryan Christy summarizes Garcia’s advice: “I might get a certificate from the National Museum of the Philippines declaring my image to be antique, or I could get a carver to issue a paper declaring it to be imitation or alter the carving date to before the ivory ban.”

Garcia also made provocative comments when I interviewed him about why he fled the U.S. in 1985. He admitted having sex with altar boys and supplying them with drugs — but said he did it because they threatened to accuse him of abuse. One boy “not only seduced me, he also raped me,” Garcia told me.

My story was part of a Dallas Morning News series called “Runaway Priests: Hiding in Plain Sight.” Reese Dunklin, Brendan Case and I documented more than 200 cases in which Catholic clergymen had gone abroad and stayed in ministry.

Most of our project disappeared from our website during a redesign years ago, so I’m republishing the Garcia story on the continuation of this post. It originally ran on March 16, 2005, under the headline: “Priest accused of rapes finds prominence; Filipino church leaders welcome Garcia despite incidents with altar boys.”

CEBU, Philippines – Here in the cradle of Asia’s lone Catholic stronghold, the Rev. Cristobal Garcia is one of the most prominent faces of the church.

He oversees worship practices for an archdiocese of 3 million believers. He bears the baby Jesus’ image during annual ceremonies that draw throngs into the streets. He led his cardinal’s advance team in Rome five years ago when Pope John Paul II declared a Filipino sainthood candidate to be blessed.

It’s a far cry from his despair of 20 years ago, when the Dominican religious order expelled him after a nun told police that an altar boy had been found in his bed in a Los Angeles rectory. The priest fled to his hometown Cebu Archdiocese – which, despite a warning from the Dominicans, put him to work anyway, with children, and persuaded the Vatican to honor him with the title “monsignor.”

Respected leader

Cebu Cardinal Ricardo Vidal also has allowed Monsignor Garcia to form a monastic religious society, whose young male recruits call him their “supreme motivator.” The Society of the Angel of Peace is based in a village outside Cebu, where the priest also oversees a chapel, a children’s Sunday school program and a squad of altar boys.

“I don’t think they [Filipino Catholic leaders] have the same standards or concerns we do,” said lawyer Lynne Goodwin, who defended the Dominicans in a 1988 lawsuit filed by one of Monsignor Garcia’s former altar boys. “I don’t think there’s any consequence for bad action.”

Paul Corral, who was the plaintiff in that case and obtained a financial settlement, said he was stunned to learn of the monsignor’s high-profile ministry. “I never thought he would continue that charade,” he said.

Cardinal Vidal is not available for interviews, aides said. He has not responded to written questions.

Monsignor Garcia, in an interview at his religious compound, acknowledged having sex with Mr. Corral and another Los Angeles altar boy when they were in their early teens.

One of them “not only seduced me, he also raped me,” the priest said.

The boys, he said, obtained sex, cocaine, marijuana and money from him by threatening to accuse him of abuse.

“Who would believe me?” said Monsignor Garcia, who is in his early to mid-50s. “What can a foreigner do?”

His accusers call that defense absurd.

Monsignor Garcia questioned whether U.S. bishops’ 2002 “zero tolerance” policy was an overreaction.

“I wonder if some of it is a face-saving mechanism” or “damage control,” he said. “In the Third World, the damage is done. Too bad. Live with it.”

Filipino bishops apologized in 2003, as their U.S. counterparts had a year earlier, for past secrecy in dealing with sexual misconduct. They acknowledged that this “created the impression of cover-up” and “could have enabled abusive behavior to be repeated.”

The Filipinos steered clear of U.S.-style zero tolerance, under which a single confirmed incident of child abuse leads to permanent removal from ministry. Their policy is more flexible: “The bishop will limit the ministry of the individual or even prohibit it, if warranted. No ministry with minors or unsupervised contact with them will be allowed.”

Still works with kids

Long before that policy was adopted, the Dominicans’ attorney said, the Cebu Archdiocese assured her that Monsignor Garcia would not work with youths.

Yet he began doing so immediately, said a man who worked with him as a priest in Cebu.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation, said Monsignor Garcia is nearly untouchable because his family is one of the richest in the Philippines. The family owns the country’s second-largest electric utility.

Monsignor Garcia said he has been a target because of his family wealth. He said the cardinal “gave me clemency” after reviewing a psychological report on him and material from the Dominicans.

Officials of the religious order said their records don’t show why they did not ask the Vatican to defrock him.

“They washed their hands of him,” said the other former altar boy with whom Monsignor Garcia admits having had sexual contact. “It’s as if no one wants to face what happened.”

That man, who is suing the Dominicans and the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said Monsignor Garcia used to have him act out scenes from pornographic videos in exchange for drugs. He said he remains deeply traumatized.

Carla Hass, a spokeswoman for the Dominicans, said the order has learned in the last year of the priest’s prominence in the Philippines.

‘Distressing’ situation

“I can’t overstate how distressing that is to us,” she said. “He’s a bad actor in every conceivable way.”

Monsignor Garcia was never criminally charged.

Jane Levikow, who served as a nun at his parish in Los Angeles, said she called police after a priest told her he had found Mr. Corral in Monsignor Garcia’s bedroom on a Sunday morning in 1985.

Mr. Corral and his parents said they later spoke at length to police. The parents said officers told them there was nothing they could do because Monsignor Garcia had left the country, and their son didn’t want to detail the abuse.

Police said they have no record of the matter.

Ms. Levikow, who is no longer a nun, said she’s not surprised. The officer she spoke to, she said, seemed eager to protect the church’s image and promised to “bury” the report.

“It was a different climate then,” Ms. Levikow said.








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