CATHOLIC priests in the Philippines are routinely sexually abusing children and never facing justice for their crimes, according to an explosive report from Al Jazeera.
The report also found a number of instances in which supposedly celibate priests had broken their vow and fathered children, an act that is condemned by the Vatican.
The secretary of the Canon Law Society in the Philippines, Father Jaime Achacoso, has said that in some remote dioceses as many as one in five priests have fathered children but the bishops are powerless to do anything.
“The bishop is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea so to speak,” Achacoso says. With a shortage of priests in this deeply devout country, often bishops have no choice but to keep the offending priests in the Church, as removing them would mean no one “to say mass and attend to the needs of the faithful.”
In cases in which the offending priest is excommunicated from the Church, they will often continue to practice their faith and preach at privately owned churches over which the Vatican has no control.
Father Elmer Cajilig, a priest who has four children, told Al Jazeera that the celibacy vow is “only a man-made rule.”
“God did not say this, so I think I cannot say that I’ve committed sin. I am just continuing His mandate … to go and multiply.”
But the abuses by Catholic clergy can be far more sinister that fathering children.
The Catholic Church’s National Tribunal of Appeals in the Philippines investigates cases of sexual abuse by clergy against young and vulnerable children. They currently investigate approximately 60 cases at any one time, Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz said, but he fears this is just a fraction of the crimes committed as bishops can also investigate such allegation in their own diocese without bringing them to the tribunal.
Cruz, who heads up the tribunal, is taking a stand and talking out against the growing scourge on the Church.
“I may be offending other bishops but this is a personal stand, that gone are the days when you can just close your eyes and plug your ears … as if nothing is happening,” he said.
“It is a heinous crime. And by a priest at that, violating a minor…there must be something wrong there.”
Child abuse within the Filipino Church is far from a new phenomenon and Cruz believes that the rise in cases that the Church has experienced in recent years is due to more people having the courage to report it, rather than an actual increase in crimes committed.
The issue came to the fore recently when President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that he had been molested as a young boy.
“It was a case of fondling — you know what — which he did during confession, that’s how we lost our innocence.”
When asked why he didn’t report the abuse he said, “I was young then and I was afraid of what will happen.”
Duterte has claimed the abuse was part of the motivation behind his brutal clampdown on drugs, which has seen over 7,000 people killed since he took power in June.
Despite the rise in cases and the severity of the crimes, the clergy still believe this to be a matter for the Church.
When asked if Filipino bishops are obliged to report sexual assault allegations to civil authorities, Father Achacoso said, “a person is innocent until proven otherwise, and so the Church handles these cases with a lot of discretion, both to protect the dignity, the good name of the priest and also for the victim.”