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Jesuits on sex abuse case: ‘Invitation to examine ourselves’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Jesuits on sex abuse case: ‘Invitation to examine ourselves’
The response is prompted by a sex abuse case, the first formal complaint of such nature brought before the Society of Jesus in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The Society of Jesus, which runs a network of prominent Ateneo schools in the Philippines, sees a recently publicized sex abuse case as a call to examine itself, especially its work of caring for minors.  

The sex abuse case involves a former Jesuit, now dead, who allegedly abused a Jesuit high school student named Lucas (not his real name) from 1984 to 1987. At the time, the alleged abuser was a Jesuit seminarian.

Citing “institutional culpability,” Lucas wants the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits, to pay him $16 million in damages. He also wants justice, making those in positions of power, who were allegedly complicit in the abuse, accountable.

In an interview with Rappler on November 22, Fr Jose Quilongquilong SJ said, “On the part of the Society, we see this as an invitation to examine ourselves, because in terms of the mind of the Church – with all the cases which happened since 2000 in other places, and with Pope Francis now – there is no place for this sexual abuse in the Church.” 

Quilongquilong is the priest assigned by Fr Antonio Moreno SJ, the head or provincial superior of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, to investigate Lucas’ case. The president of the Loyola School of Theology, he also represented Moreno in at least two meetings with the alleged victim’s lawyer.

Explaining the call to examine themselves, he referred to the work that their 475-year-old religious order is known for – running schools around the world. One of these is the Philippines’ Ateneo de Manila University, which has produced leaders such as President Benigno Aquino III himself. 

Quilongquilong said: “Especially because the Society of Jesus is committed to the formation of the young, education, there is no place for this kind of incident. So it is our moral obligation to address immediately cases like this, especially if it involves minors.”

‘Really a call for integrity’

He added: “It calls us to really examine our mission, as the Society of Jesus. It’s a mission of service, it’s a mission of trust, it’s a mission of the Gospel, and for that mission to be effective, we have to be men of integrity. Because if that is violated, then it affects the goal of our mission.” 

“It’s really a call for integrity,” he said. “And integrity means really consistency of our way of life regarding the profession of our vows, of poverty, chastity, and obedience.” 

Quilongquilong also stressed the weight of their religious order’s name. “Society of Jesus pa naman, ‘no.” (It’s even called the Society of Jesus.)

He continued: “Society of Jesus, and then we have this particular case. That’s the cause of the scandal. Society of Jesus, and you are not Christ-like because of the evil that happened. It draws us back again to our motivation as religious in terms of our following of Christ.”

For now, Quilongquilong said, one of their measures to prevent sexual abuse is “to create safe environments” for the flock and shepherds.

They make sure, for instance, that counseling rooms have windows to ensure transparency and “create safe environments.”

Moreno, for his part, told the Philippine Jesuits in a memo dated November 19: “It is painful for me to bring this matter before you but, more than ever, we wish to be a Society of transparency, committed to truthful and compassionate responses to those who have been sexually abused. Therefore all efforts will be made to investigate the allegations in an impartial manner and to respond in compassion and justice.”

Victims: ‘Great holocaust’ of girls and boys

Still, beyond the Society of Jesus, accusations of sex abuse have also long hounded the Catholic Church. (READ: What do Church rules say about ex-Jesuit’s sex abuse case?)

In the Philippines, previous high-profile cases involved top officials – Bishops Teodoro Bacani and Crisostomo Yalung. Both of them resigned from their posts a decade ago after reportedly committing indiscretions with women. 

Recently, another case in Granada, Spain, has been described as one of the worst sexual abuse cases under Pope Francis.

The case involves David Ramírez Castillo who was allegedly abused by Fr Román Martínez when he was 7. 

Ramirez said he “was repeatedly abused by Martínez or made to watch him and others, including several priests, perform sex over three years, starting in 2004 when he was 14,” according to a New York Times Service article carried by the Catholic news website Crux.

Eventually Ramírez reportedly wrote the Pope about his case. In return, the Pope called him up and “personally ordered an investigation,” the New York Times News Service reported.

In a separate article, Crux said that in the US alone, “more than 6,500 clergy have been accused of abuse, comprising about 6% of all priests who served during that period.”

Victims, however, claim that the Catholic Church often covers up for its ministers’ sexual abuses

In a letter made public in Mexico City, the victims said only civilian trials and Church reform can end the “great holocaust of thousands of boys and girls who were sacrificed to avoid scandal and salvage the image and prestige of the Catholic Church’s representatives in the world.”

They also told the Pope, “Words are not enough.” – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com