Vatican suspends Cebu priest
The Cebu-based priest at the center of an ivory smuggling scandal was ordered suspended by the Vatican but it was for another reason – a 20-year-old child abuse case in California involving altar boys.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma yesterday said the past case against Msgr. Cristobal Garcia was brought to the Vatican’s attention even before the priest’s name appeared in the October issue of National Geographic magazine’s cover story “Ivory worship”.
“The Church is also 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,” said Palma who read a prepared statement before taking questions.
“Cultural practices have contributed to the misunderstanding of the problem.”
Pederasty is defined by Webster’s dictionary as sexual relations between two males, especially when one of them is a minor.
Palma said the case is being investigated by the Vatican, and that Msgr. Garcia cannot officiate Mass in public, hear confessions or administer the sacraments.
The suspension took effects sometime in June, said Palma who implemented the order.
He explained that Garcia was also removed from positions held in the Cebu Archdicese. Palma said other priests have taken over his duties as chairman of the Commission on Worship and spiritual director of covenant communities like the Bukas Loob sa Diyos.
Palma said the monsignor was in poor health and in a Makati hospital for a medical checkup when he last spoke to him yesterday by phone.
Garcia has not been seen in liturgical celebrations in Cebu since June and is not part of the church’s prepartions for the Oct. 21 canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod in Rome.
“In regard to the matter of Msgr. Garcia’s past, the case has been elevated to the Holy See and it has initiated the investigation into it long before the present controversy erupted. I have also fulfilled the Holy See’s instructions regarding the submission of documents and acting upon related consequences,” Palma told reporters.
Palma begged off giving details of the case, saying the media had already reported about it.
He was referring to published and online articles about Garcia’s expulsion from the Dominican order in the 1980s when he was assigned in Los Angeles, California where a complaint for sexual abuse was filed against him by an altar boy.
Msgr. Achilles Dakay, the Cebu Archdiocese’s media liaison officer, said they were surprised to learn the case was revived.
“I thought it was closed in the US as a civil case. I don’t know why it reached the Vatican as a church case,” he said.
Dakay said Garcia was held civilly liable in the US in the 1980s but a criminal case was brought before the Vatican’s attention sometime in 2005.
He said the monsignor could not travel to the United States anymore as a consequence.
“He (Garcia) must have repented for what he did. He has done good but the crime remained. The hard aspect of a child abuse case is they can’t differentiate between crime and sin. The sin is forgiven. (But) the crime remains,” he said.
Dakay said the filing of child abuse cases has been “big business” in the US but he has no idea who revived the issue with the Vatican.
Garcia left the US after the child abuse scandal and was brought back to Cebu by the archbishop at the time, Julio Cardinal Rosales, who had ordained the Cebuano priest in the Dominican order.
Dakay said Garcia has done much for the local Church since he returned and became a diocesan priest.
“He founded a religious society. He has his own shrine. He is very good in liturgy. He has been printing our prayers. He has been responsible for setting up the main altar at the Cathedral. He must have repented but the crime remains,” Dakay said.
Dakay said Msgr. Garcia was informed about the revived case against him before he was hospitalized.
“I don’t know what will happen to him. He is deprived of so many rights as a priest. He (Archbishop Palma) said he is appealing with the Vatican to soften the possible penalties,” he said.
Garcia, who suffers diabetes, hypertension, and a heart ailment, has been in and out of the hospital.
He was seen in Makati last week walking slowly with his cane, accompanied by a nurse, said Dakay based on an account of another Cebu priest.
Garcia was expelled from the Dominican Order following accusations of child abuse in the 1980s.
Garcia was the last priest ordained by Cardinal Rosales before the latter died in 1982.
In Cebu Garcia was elevated to the position of monsignor during the term of Archbishop Cebu Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.
The archdiocese has named Fr. Glenn Therese Guanzon as Garcia’s temporary replacement in the Commission on Worship.
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