Cardinal Tagle at sex abuse summit: Bishops wound victims

Paterno Esmaquel II
Cardinal Tagle at sex abuse summit: Bishops wound victims
At a historic Vatican summit on sex abuse, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle hits a culture of cover-up 'to protect perpetrators and the institution'

MANILA, Philippines – Kicking off a historic Vatican summit, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle led an admission on Thursday, February 21, that bishops like himself inflict wounds on sex abuse victims by covering up for erring priests.

Tagle, who was two seats away from Pope Francis at the Vatican’s Aula Nuova del Sinodo, delivered the first presentation at the three-day sex abuse summit. Tagle was among 9 speakers, and was the only Filipino, chosen to deliver speeches during the conference.

“The abuse of minors by ordained ministers has inflicted wounds not only on the victims but also on their families, the clergy, the Church, the wider society, the perpetrators themselves, and the bishops,” Tagle said in his speech.

“But it is also true, we humbly and sorrowfully admit, that wounds have been inflicted by us, bishops, on the victims, and in fact the entire body of Christ,” Tagle said.

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, was among the 190 heads of bishops’ conferences and other church officials invited to the summit. 

Deep wound

Tagle continued his speech on Thursday, “Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”

“People are rightly asking: ‘Have you, who are called to have the smell of the sheep upon you, not instead run away when you found the stench of the filth inflicted on children and vulnerable people you were supposed to protect, too strong to endure?’ Wounds call for healing, but what does healing consist in? How do we, as bishops, who have been part of the wounding, now promote healing in this specific context?”

Tagle teared up at one point in his speech. “The wounds of the Risen Christ carry the memory of innocent suffering, but they also carry the memory of our weakness and sinfulness,” said the cardinal, his voice breaking.

Tagle also noted that bishops and religious superiors sometimes “are tempted – perhaps even at times pressured – to choose between victim and perpetrator.”

“Who should we be helping? Who should be helped? Now, a focus on justice and forgiveness shows us the answer: We focus on both. Regarding victims, we need to help them to express their deep hurts and to heal from them. Regarding the perpetrators, we need to serve justice, help them to face the truth without rationalization, and at the same time not neglect their inner world, their own wounds,” the cardinal said.

‘Concrete measures’ sought

The Pope opened the landmark summit on Thursday, saying that the world expects “concrete measures” on tackling pedophilia in the Catholic Church.

“The holy people of God are watching and waiting not for simple and obvious condemnations but concrete and efficient measures,” the Pope said as the summit opened, the first of its kind.

“Let us listen to the cry of the young ones who ask us for justice,” he said.

In the Philippines, however, President Rodrigo Duterte used the Vatican summit to launch fresh tirades against the Catholic Church.

On the eve of the summit, Duterte said the Pope convened this summit because Rome supposedly said “4 out of 5” priests are gay.

The President wrongly attributed this figure to Rome.

It is the upcoming book In the Closet of the Vatican that, according to The Guardian, said “80% of priests working at the Vatican are gay, although not necessarily sexually active.” The book said the “80%” refers to priests at the Vatican, not all priests in the Catholic Church.

“The Pope is now calling for a summit to address this particular problem because 4 out of 5, sabi ng Rome, ang pari bakla (according to Rome, are gay priests),” Duterte said

Experts have questioned this “80%” figure as unscientific, and have also rejected the mindset that homosexuality among priests is a direct cause of child sex abuse.

The President detests the Catholic Church as it is one of the leading critics of his bloody anti-drug campaign. He also claims to have been molested by a Jesuit priest when he was a student.

Clergy sex abuse remains a problem in the Philippines, as a culture of secrecy hounds victims in a country where 8 out of 10 people belong to the Catholic Church. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

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