The recent arrest of a Catholic parish priest, accused of trafficking a 13-year-old in Marikina City, is highly unusual. He was charged with violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act. Most cases of clerical child abuse go unreported or are covered up in the Philippines. In other countries, the scandal of clerical child abuse has also left thousands of victims without redress, help, therapy or a chance for justice.
The Philippines’ Child Protection Law, otherwise known as Republic Act 7610, has a provision in Section 6 that punishes acts such as the taking of a child to a secluded place, in a vehicle or a motel, by an adult not her relative for purposes of sexual abuse. This provision of the law is to prevent rape and to bring the suspect to justice.
The institutional church, that is, the hierarchy in many countries, has failed in its obligation and duty to protect children and actively pursue child abusers when the evidence was strong. In the past, the church institutions in different countries even facilitated payoffs to parents of child victims and tried to use influence with the authorities to have charges against priests and members of religious groups dropped. Other clergy were moved to other parishes when complaints of child abuse were made.
In many cases, no action was taken by church authorities to protect the child and report the alleged abuser to the authorities. Now, there have been big changes in church procedures in dealing with child abuse cases and a zero tolerance policy is in place, thanks to Pope Francis.
Cardinal George Pell from Australia, the highest Vatican official to ever be charged, was accused of abusing children and covering up similar cases by clergy. While we must respect the principle that everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, when the evidence is clear, then those charged should be made to answer.
The case of the monsignor in Marikina is serious as he was apprehended on the way to the motel with the 13-year-old child. The mother reported it to the police so it is presumed that she knows the age of her child. He had a gun, which he surrendered to the authorities. The girl previously told social workers that the man brought her to the motel in June and warned her “at gunpoint” not to allow other customers to “book” her.
People should answer for their behavior, no matter what station they hold in life. The higher their ascendancy and position, the greater their responsibility to answer the charges. They should face the law. No privilege or power should excuse anyone from facing the truth.
In our experience of helping victims/survivors of child sexual abuse and seeking justice for them, the majority of abusers are the neighbors and so-called friends of the family. The worst offenders are stepfathers and the mother’s live-in partners and the biological father.
Of the child abuse cases we have handled, 17 of the victims were abused by their biological fathers, 20 by their stepfathers or mother’s partners, 32 by neighbors or acquaintances, seven by other family members, 12 by relatives by affinity, three by persons in authority such as policemen and three by their grandfathers.
This indicates how vulnerable children are. The youngest child in our Preda Foundation home for abused girls is 6 years old. The average age of victims/survivors is 14. The fact that no child abuse cases have been brought out in public against members of the clergy is very significant and it can be presumed they are being protected.
We have had legal success every year with the brave and courageous children who testified in court and spoke without fear about the abuse they suffered. We win an average of four convictions a year. This year, we have succeeded to have three cases of child sexual abuse and multiple rape elevated to the regional trial courts. We hope that the three other cases we filed will go to trial this year. The prosecutors, mostly female, are dedicated and people of integrity.
With constant care, and with the tedious process of gathering and presentation of evidence, we can pursue justice. There are challenges, and we sometimes get counter-charges but our staff are resilient and knowledgeable and we can win. We have to take a stand and fight on for justice with and for the children. We hope that everybody will support victims/survivors so that justice, elusive as it may be, will prevail.