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MANILA, Philippines – The Society of Jesus in the Philippines is facing its first sexual abuse scandal after a former student in one of the Jesuit high schools recently surfaced and alleged he had been sexually abused by a Jesuit 30 years ago.
Now 46 years old, the alleged victim who was born and raised in Zamboanga City said he converted from Islam to Roman Catholicism upon the invitation of a Jesuit seminarian then teaching at the Ateneo de Zamboanga. A 15-year-old boy at the time, Lucas (not his real name) said he was sexually abused “a few hundred times” from 1984 to 1987.
His complaint, which reached the Office of the Provincial of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus on October 15, is now the subject of a “preliminary investigation” that seeks to verify the allegations.
This marks the first time that a formal complaint about sexual abuse has been put on record with the Society of Jesus' Philippine Province.
The Society of Jesus is the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church. They run several Ateneo schools in the Philippines – in Cagayan, Davao, Manila, Naga, Iloilo, Cebu, and Zamboanga. First arriving on Philippine shores in 1581, the Jesuits were banished in 1768 before returning in 1859. They have been here for over 300 years.
No less than Pope Francis, a Jesuit himself, has spoken on the issue of sexual abuse. Speaking to victims of abuse in Philadelphia last September 27, he said the "sins and crimes of sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret and in shame." He also said their "continued healing" will be supported by the Church which will "always be vigilant to protect the children of today and tomorrow."
In a letter dated November 16 addressed to the complainant, the Jesuit Provincial, Fr Antonio Moreno SJ said, “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.”
Lucas asserts that beyond individual culpability, there should also be “institutional culpability”, meaning, the Society of Jesus Philippine Province should be held to account for the abuse that happened to him as a minor.
Focus on the victim
There is one hitch in the case, however: the accused died August of this year. Also because he had not yet been ordained a priest when the abuse happened, he was only still a Jesuit seminarian or a Jesuit student to the priesthood.
According to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ 2003 pastoral guidelines on sexual abuses and misconduct by the clergy, it is the offender who should shoulder the expenses of the victim’s therapy. This is the document being used by the Jesuits in handling sexual abuse cases.
“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’s representative in the case and the assigned investigator, Fr Jose Quilongquilong SJ, however, stressed that the welfare of the victim is paramount.
Lucas, who has since become an Iglesia ni Cristo convert and is presently an Iglesia deacon, wants a public apology from the Provincial and damages amounting to $16 million. The amount has reportedly been reduced to $10 million after at least two meetings, the first of which was held October 27 with Lucas’ representative.
“I am focused on the justice I want. Dapat ako ang tingnan ninyo. Walang katumbas na pera ang nangyari. Hindi mo na maibabalik ang sira kong pag-iisip,” Lucas, who is now based in Australia, said in a phone interview.
(You should focus on me. What happened has no equivalence in money. You can no longer restore the damage done to my mind.)
“I want them to pay, apologize and we move on. Justice has different forms, compensation is just one of them…Sa US, may malaking Jesuit Province na-bankrupt. Nandoon ang fear na maraming susunod, parang domino effect. (In the US, there was a Jesuit Province that went bankrupt. There is that fear that many others will follow, like a domino effect.)”
Lucas recalls first meeting the Jesuit seminarian on September 16, 1984. Having lost his biological father in his Grade School days, Lucas saw in him a “prospective adoptive father.”
The high school student was supposed to be baptized in March of 1985 in a chapel inside the Jesuit Residence in Zamboanga, but the months of supposed catechumenate intended to prepare him for his conversion instead turned out to be an experience that would damage him forever.
The friendship began when he was taken in as an actor for stage plays. “Madalas kami mag-practice so doon nagsimula. Sinabihan akong tutulungan kitang mag-convert pero instead of lessons, blow job ang nakuha ko. He gave me money and we went out for dinner,” he narrated. (We often practiced so that’s where it started. He told me he would help in my conversion but instead of lessons, I got blow jobs. He gave me money and we went out for dinner.)
Close to two weeks after they first met, he was invited to a weekend outing in one of the students’ homes. After dinner, Lucas was urged to drink alcohol until he swung from tipsy to drunk. The regent and the two students were led by their hosts to a bedroom they were all supposed to share for the night.
It was there at past midnight, Lucas recalls in his narration, that his first baptism occurred in the hands of the Jesuit seminarian. The day after, he couldn’t talk about what happened out of shame.
A similar incident happened the following month at the Zamboanga Jesuit Residence. The sexual acts would be repeated practically all weekends of October to November and December of 1984, all the way to March of 1985. The episodes, sometimes escalating, would resume in December of 1985 and continue sporadically until 1986.
Years later, Lucas would repeatedly say he was “confused” and didn’t know what to do. As he approached the age of 18, he started to feel apprehensive about the relationship, an uneasy feeling he was helpless about.
There were no catechism lessons at the Loyola House when he was brought to Manila and introduced as godchild under instruction before baptism to the Catholic faith. His family had trusted the Jesuit seminarian enough to allow him to take Lucas all the way to the big city.
When Lucas first tried to confront him in May 1987 and warn him he was going to tell what he knew, especially after allegedly seeing him with another boy in Arvisu House, the Jesuit pre-novitiate, he was told off: “Sige, magsumbong ka, wala namang maniniwala sa iyo.” (Go try and complain, no one will believe you.)
“I was always beholden to him and was hanging on to his words and promises, which, later on in my adult years I found to be disturbing and reprehensible,” he says in his narration. It is this feeling of disgrace that prompted him to divulge what he kept hidden for years.
It took him 3 decades to face his darkest secrets. “Lumalabas after 28 to 30 years, nagkakaroon ng guts to say it (they were abused) at harapin ang demon,” he said, referring to other victims of sexual abuse like him.
(They come out after 28 to 30 years, they develop the guts to say it [they were abused] and to face the demon.)
In his case, after struggling with a 23-year marriage that was on the brink of being broken, he gathered enough guts to communicate again with his abuser during the Chinese New Year of 2015.
He thought the pleasure of marriage would help him overcome his repressed anger, but he found himself hitting his wife, threatening her with a knife, going into a tantrum, and shouting at the top of his voice. After just two years, their relationship was no longer as blissful as he had hoped, and he planned to file for divorce in November 2014.
This, even after he went to see a psychiatrist in 2000 to 2003, and was told he suffered from “childhood flashbacks.”
“Sino ka ba? Inabuso ka ba? (Who are you? Were you abused?)” his wife would ask him. Fortunately for him, because she was a special education teacher, it was easier for her to understand and accept him.
"A Jesuit once said that sometimes it is better to suffer in silence rather than to act; the action comes in God’s own time. Now, I am 46 years of age. I have suffered and have been quiet for more than 25 years. Indeed, action comes in God’s own time and the time is now," Lucas says in his narration.
It was February 19, 2015. He put on the speakerphone so his wife could hear his conversation with his abuser.
During that phone conversation, Lucas told him, “Naalala mo ba, sinabi ko sa iyo? Eto na yung time, kaya na kitang harapin.” (Do you remember what I told you? This is the time, I can now confront you.)
A few days later, he received an email from his former tormentor. – with Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com
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.