Charismatic group rallies behind sacked ‘ivory’ priest
CEBU CITY—Embattled Msgr. Cristobal Garcia can find strength in a Catholic charismatic group that has been under his spiritual guidance for the last 20 years.
Members of the Bukas Loob sa Diyos (BLD) have been holding vigils and synchronized prayer brigades for Garcia since Wednesday after the monsignor has been linked to the illegal smuggling of ivory by the National Geographic magazine October cover story “Ivory Worship.”
The vigils and prayers at the Vicente Sotto School of Nursing building on Osmeña Boulevard here would continue even after the BLD members have been informed of the reason behind Garcia’s removal as their spiritual director.
Garcia was suspended and stripped of his positions at the Cebu Archdiocese on orders of the Vatican pending the Holy See’s investigation of charges of child abuse for allegedly molesting two altar boys in the United States 20 years ago.
These posts include: chairmanship in the Committee on Worship; business manager of Bag-ong Lungsoranon, the official publication of the Cebu Archdiocese; and spiritual director of BLD and the World Apostolate of Fatima.
Santiago “Sonny” Academia, BLD district servant leader, said they were shocked when they read about Garcia’s suspension in the newspapers Thursday.
Academia told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview that the charges did not matter to them because Garcia had been a “faithful servant” to the group.
“Everybody has a past. Everybody has an option to renew one’s life for the better,” said Academia, who is shepherding five districts—Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, Tagbilaran City in Bohol, Ormoc City in Leyte, Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City.
Academia said they were holding vigils and prayer brigades for Garcia so he would be given strength to whether the trials he is currently facing. They were also seeking for “for God’s intervention and divine justice,” he added.
Academia said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma informed them through a letter read in the church on July 3 that Garcia had been replaced by Fr. Mon Obredo as their spiritual director.
He said the letter did not indicate why Garcia was relieved of the position that the monsignor held for 20 years.
However, Garcia said they did not question the decision since “we are subservient to the bigger church.”
Garcia was embroiled in the illegal trade of ivory controversy after he allegedly gave National Geographic writer Bryan Christy the names of his favorite ivory carvers, all in Manila, along with the advice on whom to go for high volume. Christy also claimed that Garcia gave him their phone numbers and locations.
On Wednesday, the Cebu Archdiocese announced that Garcia was suspended by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma in June on instructions of the Vatican because of the ongoing investigation of the child abuse case filed against him.
Msgr. Achilles Dakay, Cebu Archdiocese media liaison officer, clarified that Garcia’s suspension came long before the monsignor was implicated in the illegal ivory trade.
Garcia, however, can count on the support of BLD members.
“Personally, between 1,000 accusations and one word of Monsignor Cris, I still believe in Monsignor Cris,” Academia said.