MANILA, Philippines—Amid a controversy involving a Cebu priest allegedly connected to illegal ivory trade, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday said the Catholic Church does not condone ivory smuggling even if in the past it was a main ornament used for liturgical worship.
In a statement on Wednesday, CBCP President Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma stressed that while ivory artifacts crafted long before the ban were considered the cultural heritage of the Church, it was not encouraging the use of ivory for new implements.
“Let it be made clear that the Church supports the ban on ivory as it is consistent with her doctrine on stewardship of creation,” said Palma, a co-signatory in a petition by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) calling for the transfer of Manila Zoo’s lone elephant, “Mali” to a sanctuary in Thailand.
His statement was posted on the website of the Church-run Radio Veritas on Wednesday.
According to an article published by the National Geographic magazine and written by Bryan Christy, the demand for religious icons made from ivory is the cause of thousands of elephants being killed every year.
The investigative report, titled “Ivory Worship,” also included revelations by Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, the head of the Archdiocese of Cebu’s Commission on Worship, on the illegal trade.
“The principles stated above should guide us in resolving the matter concerning the alleged involvement of Msgr. Garcia in the illegal ivory trade, always bearing in mind the right of the person concerned for a fair and just hearing,” said Palma.
He also added that the account given by NatGeo should be assessed as to its veracity, “considering that the article smacks of bias against religious practices.”
As for Garcia’s past—having been accused of sexually abusing two youths in the 1980s while working in the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles—the case has been elevated to the Vatican, which has already initiated an investigation long before the present controversy erupted, according to Palma.
“I have also fulfilled the Holy See’s instructions regarding the submission of documents and acting upon related consequences,” said the senior prelate, noting that the Church was fully aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty.
“In recent pronouncements, the Church has stated her regret for the failure to address the problem in a more decisive and effective way. Cultural practices have contributed to the misunderstanding of the problem,” he added.
Palma also pointed out clarifications on claims made by the author of the NatGeo report on the supposed perception of religious icons among Filipinos.
He said that while it was true that icons were being venerated by Filipino Catholics, the Church does not teach that these icons is God or the saints themselves.
He said such veneration was only a means to tangibly express faith in God and devotion to the saints. “Any encouragement promoting such idolatry is contrary to Church belief and must be purified,” added Palma.