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What do Church rules say about ex-Jesuit's sex abuse case?

MANILA, Philippines – After being confronted with a sex abuse complaint, Philippine Jesuits are revisiting the rules of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Holy See to seek guidance in handling the case.

The case involves Lucas (not his real name), who once studied in a school run by the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits, the biggest male religious order in the Catholic Church. (READ: Part 1: Ex-Jesuit accused of sexual abuse)

Lucas said a Jesuit, who eventually left the Society of Jesus, abused him “a few hundred times” from 1984 to 1987, starting when he was 15.

What do the rules of the Catholic Church say about sexual abuse cases like this?

We consulted 3 documents cited by Fr Jose Quilongquilong SJ, the investigator assigned to meet with the persons involved. He sat down for an interview with Rappler on Sunday evening, November 22.

Quilongquilong showed us a landmark document by the CBCP in 2003, and two from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In these documents, 3 elements stand out as relevant to Lucas’ case:

Context: Church accused of cover-up 

Lucas’ case is unique not only because it is the first sex abuse scandal to hit the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, which runs the prominent network of Ateneo schools in the Philippines.

It is striking also because the alleged sexual abuse happened 30 years ago – and the alleged offender is dead. 

Lucas’ case is the latest to test the Catholic Church’s rules in dealing with sexual abuse. 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.

Elsewhere in the world, sex abuse cases have also forced the Catholic Church – torn between compassion and legal processes – to spend millions in settlement fees.

In 2007, for instance, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid one of the largest settlement claims in sex abuse cases – $660 million for more than 500 victims. Reuters said it was “the biggest such agreement of its kind in the US.” 

Now under Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, the Catholic Church is struggling to reform the way it handles cases like these.

One of the Pope's latest moves, in June of this year, was to approve a tribunal to judge bishops who, in the words of Vatican Radio, “fail to protect children from sexually abusive priests.” Earlier, in March 2014, he created a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Victims, on the other hand, claim that the Catholic Church often covers up for its ministers’ sexual abuses.

In February, victims issued a letter to Francis saying, “words are not enough.” 

General rule: Protect rights of all

In the Philippines, the key document on such cases is the CBCP’s Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy. It was signed in 2003 by then CBCP president Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo OMI.

(CBCP Secretary General Fr Marvin Mejia told Rappler on Tuesday, November 24, that the 2003 document “is being revised/updated” by the CBCP but the revision is “still to be approved by Rome.”)

In this 2003 document, the CBCP presented a general rule: “When an accusation is made, the rights of the victims, the offenders, and the community must be protected.”

The bishops said the response to sexual abuse cases “must address” the following:

They also said the local bishop or the religious institute’s leader should “ensure that action will be taken promptly and decisively.”

“It should be remembered however that a charge does not justify of itself sanctions and penalties. The truth needs to be established using standards of proof and evidence required in the relevant forum. So the Church will not act adversely against anyone on the basis of a mere allegation or complaint,” the CBCP said.

Each case, then, should undergo stringent investigation.

In the case of Lucas, the provincial or head of the Jesuits in the Philippines, Fr Antonio Moreno SJ, requested Quilongquilong to launch a preliminary investigation. 

Quilongquilong, president of the Loyola School of Theology, said Moreno’s office received Lucas’ letter of complaint on October 15. 

He said Moreno himself read Lucas’ letter two or three days later, and requested him to investigate the case through an appointment letter dated October 20.

CBCP: Offender should pay

The CBCP said that aside from conducting an investigation, dioceses or religious institutes should “offer healing and reconciliation” to the victims “in the form of counseling, spiritual direction, social service, and sincere human interaction.”

The CBCP said: “The offender should shoulder the expenses attendant to the victim's therapy. Out of charity the diocese, within its means, will assist financially in the healing process to be undergone by victims if the offender needs such assistance. The offender will be required to reimburse the diocese for all expenses incurred in handling the case.”

Moreno offered Lucas these forms of assistance in a letter dated November 16. 

The Jesuit Provincial told Lucas: “Out of compassion, but without pre-empting the ongoing investigation, I am open to offering you some professional help and assistance in all forms. To enable us to determine what sort of assistance is needed, I propose that there be an independent assessment of your current situation now so that we can properly address your concerns.”

Still, Lucas’ case is unique because the alleged offender – who, if proven guilty, should pay for the victim’s therapy – is dead.

“The offender is dead, we have no way to check the details of the narrative, but again, out of moral responsibility, if the complaint is brought to the province's attention, immediately we have to respond,” Quilongquilong said.

Case past the allowed period

In Lucas’ case, another element that stands out is the long time that passed after the alleged abuse happened.

Based on the rules set by the Vatican, a sexual abuse involving a minor can still be pursued only within a certain period. 

This period is called the prescription, which the Vatican defines as “the canonical provision for time limits within which a criminal action can be brought to justice.” 

The prescription is within 20 years “calculated from the completion of the 18th year of age of the victim,” according to the revised rules approved by then Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Lucas is now 46, or around 8 years past this prescription.

No CBCP rule on dead offenders

In all these, the question is, how should investigators proceed if the alleged offender is dead?

The CBCP’s rules in 2003 are silent about dead offenders.

Under these rules, the CBCP even says the accused “will be informed of the investigation being done.” He may also “be required to undergo preliminary assessment with a person or facility specializing in the evaluation of sexual disorders and sexual abuse.”

Quilongquilong said in a mix of English and Filipino, “You have to really give full attention to all the persons involved, as mentioned in the CBCP guidelines, which we tried to do in this case.”

He added: “The only problem is, the offender is dead. That really complicated the whole process, because this could have been simplified in terms of the process if the offender was still alive and really should answer the allegation.” 

Right now, Quilongquilong told Rappler, the investigators just have the alleged victim’s narrative. 

Criminal justice involved

In other cases, CBCP rules also make room for criminal prosecution.

The CBCP said in 2003 that “if a crime is involved,” the diocese or religious institute should also “cooperate with public authorities in the legal process governing sexual abuse.”

The CBCP, after all, pointed out: “Criminal sexual acts violate laws stated in the Revised Penal Code and the Civil Code of the Philippines. These include, among others, rape, incest, sexual harassment, adultery, prostitution, child abuse, and molestation. Each case has a corresponding criminal liability.”

The CBCP noted, too, that a case doesn’t end only because it failed to prosper in the civil forum, or a court of law. 

The CBCP said cases can also be pursued in the canonical forum, which involves Church law, and in the internal forum, which “is the realm of conscience and spiritual life.” 

“A case filed in the civil forum resulting in the acquittal of an accused cleric does not automatically exonerate him in the canonical and internal fora where the case can be pursued,” the CBCP said in 2003.

In all these, the CBCP said it wants to ensure transparency.

The CBCP said: “The problem of sexual abuse and misconduct by some members of the clergy is not new. In the past, confidentiality and therefore, secrecy have created the impression of cover-up, toleration of abuse, and lack of concern for victims. Such procedure could have enabled abusive behavior to be repeated.”

The bishops added, “We acknowledge the shortcomings and mistakes in the way some cases have been handled. For the pain and sorrow such failures have caused, we apologize from the depths of our hearts.” 

“Through these pastoral guidelines, we desire to manifest our responsibility of shepherding Christ’s flock, of caring for victims and of addressing the problems of the clergy.” –

Paterno R. 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