PETALING JAYA: An explosive documentary by Al Jazeera’s 101 East has revealed that many priests in the Philippines routinely sexually abuse the children in their congregation but are never investigated for their crimes.
The documentary also revealed that many more break the sacred vows of celibacy and even father children, something the Catholic church does not permit.
101 East reporter Drew Ambrose said, “The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful institutions in the Philippines.
“Victims of clergy abuse are under enormous pressure not to report abusive priests. We found that even when they do find the courage to come forward, some are paid to keep quiet.”
Such was the case of “Imelda”, a 15-year-old, who alleged that a priest in her village sexually assaulted her. She says when her family discovered she had reported the incident to the police, they beat her.
“They were angry with me. They were telling me that what I did was wrong. They treated me like a stray dog because of what I did, because I filed a case,” she says.
She claims that a man and a woman from her church gave her US$150 (RM668) to drop the charges. Her case never went to court.
According to 101 East, some church leaders are however speaking out against the institution’s failure to properly investigate abuse allegations and bring the perpetrators to court.
“I may be offending other bishops but this is a personal stand, that gone are the days when you can just close your eyes and plug your ears, the bishops, as if nothing is happening,” says retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz.
Apart from sexual abuse, Ambrose also revealed that some priests in the Philippines were breaking their vows of celibacy and fathering children.
Ambrose spoke to one Father Elmer Cajilig, a priest who has four children and now preaches at privately-owned churches.
He’s one of several priests with children who have written to the Vatican, asking to be accepted back into the church.
He tells 101 East that the celibacy vow is “only a man-made rule.”
“God did not say this, so I think I cannot say that I’ve committed sin. I am just continuing His mandate … to go and multiply.”
Church investigators tell 101 East that in some dioceses, one in five priests have had children. But with a shortage of priests in this deeply devout nation, the church rarely takes action against the errant.
“That’s the reality that happens in those areas where discipline, where the hierarchy is not so well-organised,” says Father Jaime Achacoso, secretary of the Canon Law Society in the Philippines.
“Philippines: Sins of the Father” premiered on Al Jazeera English today at 6.30am on 101 East and will be repeated at 5.30pm. It will be screened once again on February 18 at 11.30am, February 20 at 12.30am, and again the same day at 1.30pm.