Archbishop Tagle: Make erring priests accountable

In the Philippines and other parts of Asia, a culture of "shame" forces sex abuse victims to keep silent

ASIAN PERSPECTIVE. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle addressed the problem of sexual abuse by priests in a recently concluded Vatican conference. Newsbreak photo.

MANILA, Philippines – “The best way to care for the offender is to make him face up to the misconduct,” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said in a recent speech  about priests accused of sexual abuse. 

During a symposium in Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, Tagle explained the importance of making erring priests face the consequences of sex abuse. The symposium was part of an unprecedented Vatican conference that ended Thursday, February 9.

“He must be made aware of ecclesiastical and canonical processes governing his particular case. The bishop must carefully observe the procedures especially when the grave matter could lead to dismissal from the clerical state,” Tagle said, adding that the priest’s superiors should help him “start a new life” should he decide to leave the priesthood.

“All the way, every step should be taken to ensure fairness, truthfulness and compassion,” he said.

Tagle said superiors and bishops should also do their part.

“Superiors are battered from all sides. They are accused of covering up if you are discreet. If they are firm, they are accused of lack of compassion. But experience has taught that inaction, mere geographic transfer of priests and insensitivity to the victims compromise the integrity of the religious superior or bishop,” he said.

In his 8-page speech titled “Clergy Sexual Misconduct: Some Reflections from Asia,” Tagle gave 5 other “areas of response” to sexual misconduct, which cover areas like pastoral care for victims and the community.

Criminal offense

A representative of Pope Benedict XVI – Cardinal Wiliam Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – was more pointed in his speech earlier during the conference. Levada emphasized cooperation with civil authorities.

“Certainly no less important than any of the other elements, the cooperation of the Church with civil authorities in these cases recognizes the fundamental truth that the sexual abuse of minors is not only a crime in canon law, but is also a crime that violates criminal laws in most civil jurisdictions,” Levada said.

“The Church has an obligation to cooperate with the requirements of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the appropriate authorities,” he added.

In an interview with Rappler on the sidelines of another forum, Fr Robert Reyes, more popularly known as the “running priest,” also said erring priests “should be subjected to the powers and authority of the law.”

May mga nagkakaso pero inaatras eh, dahil masyadong malakas ang clout ng Simbahan. Napapakiusapan,” Reyes said. (There are some who file cases but withdraw these because of the Catholic Church’s strong clout. They can be persuaded.)

Reyes thus urges Church officials to reexamine seminary formation, among other things, to correct the sex abuse problem.

A Jesuit priest, Fr Jose Mario Francisco, has challenged the Church in a Newsbreak piece to confront “our understanding of sexuality and how to address accountability.”

“Failure of the Church to address these issues in the long run may just undermine the Church’s moral voice in the crucial social concerns of our time,” Francisco said.

Culture of ‘shame’

Meanwhile, Tagle urged his fellow prelates to acknowledge some cultural aspects, in the Asian context, that lead to the “relative silence with which the victims and Asian Catholics face the scandal.”

One of these aspects is the culture of “shame,” he said.

“For Asian cultures, a person’s shame tarnishes one’s family, clan and community. Silence could be a way of preserving what is left of one’s honor. It could also be a sign of trauma,” Tagle explained.

Despite this relative silence, prominent sex abuse cases have surfaced in the Philippines in previous years.

Newsbreak, which has joined Rappler, has investigated a Catholic bishop who had an affair with a married woman and had fathered a child by her. It had also reported on another bishop accused of sexual harassment. –

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