Clergy Misconduct among Priests in the Philippines: Key Cases
This special report profiles a dozen key cases of priests in the Philippines accused of child sexual abuse. All are believed to be living in the Philippines as of January 2015. At least seven are still in active ministry, according to online church directories and news sources; the other five were in active ministry as of a few years ago, but their current status is unclear. None is known to have been laicized.
This report launches our Philippines research project – an effort to document comprehensively the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the world’s third largest Catholic country. We have identified and researched to date more than 70 priests, brothers, and bishops in the Philippines who have been accused of child sexual abuse and sexual misconduct with adults. A report on our complete findings will be posted later in 2015.
We present this page in the meantime because these cases raise particularly urgent concerns about child safety (see also our letter). They include:
- Rev. Apolinario “Jing” Mejorada, O.S.A., an active parish priest in Laguna province who admitted to sexually assaulting boys in Cebu City in the late 1990s.
- Rev. Joseph Skelton, Jr., still in active ministry with young people in the Philippines, although the bishop of Tagbilaran and the Philippine bishops’ conference were made aware that Skelton had been convicted of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old boy in the Detroit MI archdiocese in 1988.
- Rev. Raul Cabonce, who was quickly transferred to his bishop’s residence in 2011 after a 17-year-old girl filed rape charges against him.
- Rev. Manuel Perez “Benilda” Maramba, O.S.B., currently listed as a faculty member of San Beda College and performer with the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, both in Manila. He is named by at least three victims from his former assignments in Las Cruces, New Mexico, U.S.
These cases are important too because they reveal an enduring resistance by Filipino bishops to punishing and exposing offending priests. This attitude is evident even in Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the popular Manila archbishop considered a possible successor to Pope Francis. In a 2012 interview with journalist John Allen, he said that zero tolerance was a subject of debate in the Philippines: “We’ve had cases in the past … in which some priests who had offended were given a second chance and turned out to be very good priests.” And in a little-noticed 2012 video interview with UCANews, he observed of the Asian church’s response to clergy sexual misconduct, “I think for us … exposing persons, both victims and abusers, to the public, either through media or legal action, that adds to the pain.”
Civil action by victims, investigations of the church by prosecutors, and governmental inquiries – factors that have forced bishops and religious superiors in other countries to adopt more effective child protection measures – have occurred little or not at all in the Philippines. Even its criminal justice system seems skewed against victims: our research so far has found no convictions of clerics for child sexual abuse. In July 2002, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addressed clergy sexual abuse for the first time, issuing anapology. The group’s president, Cotabato archbishop Orlando Quevado, estimated that in the 20 years previous, 200 of 7,000 priests nationwide may have committed sexual abuse or sexual misconduct. But church officials since then have released virtually no information – no documents and no names – of specific offenders.
In 2003, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) published “Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy,” a protocol far more lenient toward accused priests than the Charter and Norms adopted the previous year by the U.S. Church. The bishops stated flatly that they would not report priests to civil authorities, since the bishop-priest relationship is “analogous to that between father and son” (par. 36.G). They also stipulated that in many cases, confidentiality oaths are required (par. 36.A). If a priest is falsely accused, the bishop will issue a written defense and may bring the accuser to court (par. 39); there is no similar provision for restoring the reputations of maligned victims.
The Guidelines hedge about removing priests even in cases where sexual abuse has been verified: “the bishop or superior will limit the ministry of the individual or even prohibit it, if warranted.” (par. 37.C)
The Guidelines focus at length on the situation of priests who father children – “priest-fathers.” The first time a priest fathers a child, his ministry “must be saved” if it can be “established with moral certainty that the generation of a child was the result of an isolated fault” (par. 43.B). If a priest fathers a second child, he will be dismissed from ministry (par. 43.B.7).
In February 2012, Cardinal Tagle said that new guidelines were being finalized for presentation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As of January 2015, this updated protocol had not been published. According to a 2013 book by Philippines journalist Aries Rufo,Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church, the Vatican has rejected the new draft because it still contains the provision allowing priests to father one child in ministry – what is scathingly called the “one child quota system” by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, a public critic of his colleagues’ response to clergy sexual misconduct.