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MANILA, Philippines – Days after the Chinese New Year of 2015, Lucas (not his real name) received a supposed email from the man he accused of sexually abusing him when he was a minor. It had been decades since their last communication.
Dated February 22, 2015, the email was shared with the Jesuits investigating the case. Parts of it were also shown to us.
“It is with great sadness, sorrow and grief, above all, of humility that I write this letter in response to your email. I know this letter will never undo the hurt and pain that you have gone through all these years but after having gathered enough courage myself, I will try in my own fumbling way,” it began.
The writer, who by then had left the Jesuits to become a diocesan priest, continued, “I am old now and I also want to be at peace first with you, with God and myself.” He left the Society of Jesus in 1998 for reasons undisclosed after his ordination 10 years before.
The email, said to be sent to Lucas, read in part: “I should really have done this long time ago, but I never had the chance nor the courage to communicate with you how deeply sorry I am for the injustice that I have done – my recklessness, imprudence, lack of control, indifference and arrogance, not realizing the consequence of my actions then. That is why I hope and pray you will still allow me now to beg and ask you to please FORGIVE me. With the unimaginable and unbearable damage I have caused you and your family, I know I will never deserve to be forgiven. In my prayers these past years, I have also asked forgiveness from God, and been sorry for all the other sins I have committed.”
To Lucas it was clearly an admission of guilt, a strong basis for him to seek retribution. In the few months that followed he would find out that the person he accused of abuse was himself a victim of abuse, supposedly also by another Jesuit. The cycle continued and Lucas was at the receiving end of it, as was his wife for a time.
But it did little to assuage what he felt about himself. From the Jesuit Residence in Zamboanga to Arvisu House to Loyola House of Studies (LHS), he says, he experienced sexual abuse for about 3 years and claims to have witnessed at least one sexual act.
“Nakakadiri, ang dumi sa pag-iisip ko, nawalan ako ng respeto sa mga pari,” he says in an interview, recalling what he saw many years ago. (It’s nauseating, dirty to my mind, I lost respect for priests.) Instead of becoming a Catholic, Lucas became an Iglesia ni Cristo convert, following his wife who was born into the Iglesia Church.
Sex abuse is perhaps the Catholic Church’s modern day scourge, and the Church has been accused of covering up and defending abusers instead of helping victims who were abused by the clergy.
In the Philippines, very rough and possibly outdated estimates say about 3% of the country’s priests may have committed sexual misconduct, including child abuse, affairs, and homosexuality.
Back in 2002, then Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Orlando Quevedo was reported by the BBC as saying that 200 of the 7,000 priests in the Philippines may have committed sexual misconduct from the 1980s to the 1990s.
Lucas’ alleged abuser, now among the statistics, tried to compensate for what he had done. After their February conversation, he is said to have told Lucas, “Bigay mo sa akin ang account number ng anak mo, magdedeposit ako.” (Just give me the account number of your child, and I will make a deposit.)
The communication was interrupted by the untimely and unexpected death of the accused this year.
In two meetings with representatives of the Jesuit Provincial here, Lucas’ lawyer asked for $16 million* (P753 million), an amount which the Jesuits found impossibly high, given the circumstances of the case. The amount is said to be under negotiation. (READ: What do Church rules say about ex-Jesuit’s sex abuse case?)
The Jesuits, according to Fr Jose Quilongquilong SJ, representative of Provincial Fr Antonio Moreno SJ, had offered P3 million in cash as a “form of assistance” to Lucas. The amount would be given even as they wait for the completion of an “independent assessment” of what really happened.
“It’s part of our moral responsibility, that seeing the case, we recognized that the person is suffering, maski patay na yung offender (even if the offender is dead). On the part of the Society [of Jesus], we feel that we [need to] offer that to help him.”
The assessment would cover effect on work, relationships, compensation being sought, and even psychiatric treatment. A thorough investigation, Quilongquilong said, had Lucas been more open and cooperative, would have taken just months, “not years,” from the time there was official communication with Moreno on October 15.
“In 30 years, not brought to our attention, and you want us to have a definite word and make a decision within 30 days?” Quilongquilong asked, pointing out the difficulty of meeting the demand for a quick reply.
Yet having read Lucas’ narration and the email of the former Jesuit to Lucas, the investigator said that because “it was very specific,” these gave him the idea that it was “most probable” the incidents of abuse actually happened as alleged.
When that happens, Quilongquilong said, the Church’s response should be “immediate action” because there was a violation of trust in the “ministerial relationship.”
Besides compensation, Lucas wants the superiors and administrators of the Loyola House and Arvisu House at the time to be held responsible for his abuse.
Why was the extended presence at the LHS of an outsider – a minor like him then – allowed, thus allowing the abuse to happen?
“Such stay-ins in retrospect, probably would have been strictly forbidden, then as now, especially when the outsider was a minor,” Lucas, who stayed for 3 days at LHS, says in his narration. The same applies to Arvisu House, where he was allowed to live for about a month-and-a-half.
He referred to the House administrators as “enablers” who were complicit with the abuser. They kept quiet and looked the other way even when they saw him, a minor then, sharing a room, for extended periods, in a place he was not supposed to be in.
In his November 19 memorandum to the whole Philippine Province, Moreno said, “Following our protocols, we reviewed all our records, and did not find any evidence that Superiors had any knowledge of sexual misconduct on the part of the accused in the years that he was a Jesuit. Other Jesuits were mentioned in the complaint for not doing anything to prevent the abuse. But in our initial investigation we found that those mentioned were completely unaware of any sexual abuse involving the accused and the complainant.”
Can a religious congregation like the Society of Jesus be brought to task for the abuses that happened? Quilongquilong explained, “If the superior was informed, and the superior did not do anything, then the superior is culpable.”
When they examined the records there was nothing brought to the attention of the superiors about any abuse. Culpability is “with intention”, said Quilongquilong. But how can intention be proven?
The situation in the 1980s was different and awareness about “boundaries” was virtually non-existent, Quilongquilong said.
“That time, 1986, 1987, before this awareness of boundaries and so on, part of the Filipino culture, everyone…[was]…just welcome to stay in a room…The consciousness of certain boundaries was not clearly observed. It was not just the Jesuits, but it was widespread practice in places to just allow persons to stay in a room, especially if the person was introduced as a godson or a relative.”
Back then, he added, the rooms in the prenovitiate were “dorm-style” so that there were 2-3 prenovices in one room. “Strictly speaking, a kind of private room was not really the structure then. When all these cases [of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church] came up in 2000…the protocol and the awareness of boundaries, integrity of ministry” became more apparent.
In the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, these changes emerged only about 5 years ago. Today, every Jesuit has a copy, too, of a booklet called “Integrity in Ministry” which was released only 3 years ago, Quilongquilong said.
He continues to hope that lines of communication between Lucas and the Society of Jesus remain open so investigations can continue. A visibly tired Lucas, however, is asking for justice and wanting to move on. – with Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com
*$1 = P47
Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.