THE recent incident of sexual abuse involving a Catholic Church priest in Dumanjug, Cebu is not as horrifying as the pedophilia scandals abroad that have hounded the church through the years. But it happened close to home; thus, it has jolted the community.
A 17-year-old altar girl was allegedly kissed by the parish priest in Dumanjug town after he told her to lie down beside him on bed in his convent room. That night of March 2, a Saturday, she had brought him his vitamins and was given food and water and allowed to watch TV.
The family made the allegation to the police station on March 8 and before weekend, the priest was relieved of his parish and “most likely,” a news report said, was no longer in Dumanjug. Police suppose the archbishop can produce the priest when he must face arrest. By Saturday, March 9, an “investigation committee,” composed of canon law experts, was formed by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma.
Church action was prompt, apparently because of the current concern of the Vatican to deal with the problem more honestly and efficiently than it had in the past. The Feb. 21-24 Rome summit of 193 presidents of conferences of bishops across the world showed the mood of Pope Francis and other church leaders: They had not tackled the problem up front and center and instead was active in a cover-up or complicit to it. Now they would no longer tolerate “predator priests.”
Appeals to public
Two appeals were aired to the local public, not new and certainly familiar defenses because they were raised before:
* Not to condemn the entire priesthood, as the local offenders are a small minority among Cebu’s priests, a tiny fraction of the world clergy community;
* Not to judge the Dumanjug priest quickly before the investigation is completed.
The community has been excessively lenient, if one notices: no vociferous voices demanding punishment of suspected or accused priests. So forgiving in fact that no calls are made for immediate arrest of priests linked to sexual abuse.
Change in protocol
One wonders though if the Cebu Archdiocese has made changes in its “canonical protocol” in dealing with the problem. The recent Vatican summit, the public was made to understand, gives archdioceses enough leeway to adopt rules in handling complaints against their priests.
Suspicion of whitewash and cover-up rises and hovers in the public mind because often it does not know what happens to the church investigation. Investigators on the alleged physical abuse of a “mentally-challenged” child in Mandaue City last December 2018 has still to publish its finding. Has the archdiocese made it part of the process to announce the result of its investigation of an offending priest? It took the Vatican to notice from a magazine article that a bishop who fled the US on a charge of sexual abuse had been working with children for many years in Cebu. The public becomes skeptical if it is not told what the inquiry produced and where the accused priest has gone.
With the spirit of remorse and new resolve to do better, fomented by the just concluded Vatican meeting, perhaps the Cebu Archdiocese can implement a modified protocol, starting with the Dumanjug case.
President Duterte has repeatedly criticized priests on alleged lustful behavior. Last Friday, March 2, he advised women to “refrain” from going near priests. “When you are near him, he will just smell the scent of your body. And if he corners you in church, patay ka, he will court you...”
Most people have ignored Duterte’s call-out against bishops and priests. Yet if the church won’t keep its promise of genuine change in dealing with clergy against whom complaints are filed, some might take their President’s advice.