Vidal says Cebu priest did not teach writer to smuggle ivory
Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal yesterday said he was dismayed by the National Geographic magazine story that linked religious fervor for the Sto. Niño and Msgr. Cristobal Garcia to ivory smuggling.
He said Garcia never told the NatGeo writer how to smuggle ivory images to the United States.
“Somebody was narrating to him (Garcia) how things (smuggling) are being done, and then when it was published, he was the one doing it,” said the cardinal in a press conference at his residence in Sto. Nino Village in Cebu City.
Vidal said he knew that Msgr. Garcia was misquoted after talking with Garcia who was on his way to the hospital in Manila.
Vidal also clarified that he didn’t ask for the declaration of ‘persona non grata’ status for the writer, Bryan Christy as reported in the media.
Vidal said he was asked (in the ABS-CBN TV Patrol Central Visayas interview), whether it was proper to declare Christy persona non grata or unwelcome in Cebu.
“I said I cannot say anything. I’m not the person who should do that. It should be the government or anybody else. I was surprised when it was attributed to me,” Vidal recalled.
The TV report, which CDN used as basis for its headline story the other day, led with the cardinal’s support for imposing ‘persona non grata’ status on Christy “if he had his way….” and aired video footage of the cardinal complaining that “He (Christy) deceived us and he deceived the people whom he interviewed when he said he was tring to publish something about the devotion (to the Sto. Niño).”
Vidal said he was “very much saddened” by the NatGeo article about ivory smuggling which brought up Garcia’s past lawsuit over child abuse in California when he was still a Dominican priest.
“That was over 20 years ago. What’s the conneciton with ivory?” he asked.
“Of course, I’m disappointed because it (report) affected the Church. As far as some people are saying, it’s really an attack on the Church especially now that we are fighting against the Reproductive Health Bill,” Vidal said.
“Maybe the writer has no intention on that one. But the problem is the effect.” he added.
Vidal said contrary to reports, Garcia “was not expelled” from the Dominican Order in the United States after a lawsuit was filed over child abuse allegations in 1985 but was “allowed to withdraw” from the congregation and seek another posting.
Vidal said he had the papers to show the transfer of Garcia to the Cebu Archdiocese was all in order and would bring them to the Vatcian this month.
“He was granted by the Holy See… the privilege of a religious cleric to withdraw from an order and look for a bishop. He was not expelled. He was given three years, and if he could not find anything, he could not go back.”
Vidal, who was the archbishop from 1982 to 2010, said he accepted the Cebuano priest, but didn’t go into details yesterday of the complaint of a teenage altar boy which ended with a financial settlement with the Dominicans in California and no criminal charge : “I was called a kind bishop who accepts…”
Vidal said that under the rules of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, a cleric applying for a diocese should be placed under observation for several years,.
“I entrusted him to (the late Cebu coadjutor) Archbishop Manuel Salvador, a canon lawyer. He recommended that he (Garcia) could be incardinated in the archdiocese and prepared the documents.”
Vidal said he would bring these paper to the Vatican when he leaves for Rome this month for the synod of bishops.
Msgr. Garcia is under investigation by the Vatican over the 1980s case in California. In June he was quietly suspended from his posts in the Cebu Archdicoese along with priestly functions to celebrate Mass in public but the sanction was not known until Archbishop Jose Palma last week responded to the National Geographic expose to affirm that the church supports the ban on ivory smuggling and that the Vatican had started an investigation of Garcia on a case of pederasty even before the magazine article was released in late September.
Questions remain on why the case was revived in the Vatican, something church officials in Cebu were also hard put to explain.
Even Vidal was surprised that the case against Garcia resurfaced.
Vidal said he spoke with Garcia recently “just to console him.” “I said I will try to see and investigate the documents that we have in the chancery.”
Garcia, who was confined last week in a Metro Manila hospital, “is really sick”, said the cardnial.
“With his situation, of course, his sugar would go up. Na-stress sya. I don’t know hat will happen to him. I hope he will not get a heart attack,” the cardinal said.
Vidal is set to leave for Rome, Italy on Oct. 14 for the canonization of Visayan martyr Pedro Calungsod.
Asked if he would discuss Garcia’s case with the Pope, Vidal said the Holy Father will be too busy because of the World Synod of Bishops.
He also doesn’t have plans to send a letter to Christy to clarify the reports.
“I do not like to do something (about the report). I just remain quiet. I just say why things has been said or written like that,” Vidal said.
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