Catholic clergy urged to return donations from pork loot
MANILA, Philippines — A senior Catholic bishop said on Sunday that members of the clergy who received donations from alleged pork barrel scam key operator Janet Lim-Napoles must return the money now that they knew where it came from.
“When they received the money, it is certain they did not know it was tainted money. Now that they know, they should return the money if they can still do it,” Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said in an interview with reporters.
He said these priests must take a leaf from the seven bishops linked to the “Pajero” scandal who obtained motor vehicles bought with funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the Arroyo administration.
The vehicle donations sparked a Senate investigation nearly three years ago and the bishops, who said their action was done without malice and out of a sincere desire to help their people, eventually returned the cars to the PCSO.
Cruz gave the advice following a Philippine Daily Inquirer report based on whistle-blower Benhur Luy’s files that Napoles gave generous donations to priests and nuns using money allegedly stolen from the congressional Priority Development Assistance Fund.
Big amounts of donations were particularly given to former Quiapo Church rector, Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, who was issued a Metrobank check for P2.5 million in 2007, among other donations.
But in a statement last week, Ramirez clarified that the check was for P2 million and that he accepted the donations from Napoles in “utmost good faith and without any knowledge as to the source of the funds.”
But Cruz said on Sunday that since the source of the money had already been revealed, Ramirez and other priests who accepted donations from Napoles must give the money back “if still possible.”
“Thou shall not steal means you neither steal nor receive stolen money,” said Cruz, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“It was like that, although not stolen, when the bishops concerned returned all the cars they got from the PCSO because the cars were given for dubious reasons,” he added.
He reminded his colleagues in the Church and members of the clergy to be prudent in accepting financial aid from people. “You have to be careful because sometimes they ask for a return favor, which you cannot give, that’s why you have to be prudent,” he said.
Following the Pajero controversy, the CBCP vowed to reexamine its style of collaboration with government agencies for its social work for the poor, putting premium on respect of “pastoral sensibilities and observance of the highest ethical standards.”
On Saturday, the CBCP called on government officials implicated in the pork barrel scam not to use their positions to influence the ongoing investigation.
In a pastoral guidance titled “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good,” the CBCP, led by its president, Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, also urged the Catholic faithful to offer a prayer for the “conversion” of the culprits and for the courage of the witnesses in the scam.
Villegas requested the people to pray an extra rosary from May 31, Feast of the Visitation, to Aug. 15, Solemnity of the Assumption, and “offer it for the conversion of the culprits in the pork barrel scam, for the courage of the witnesses and the healing of our country.”
Villegas also called on all those implicated in the scandal to allow impartial investigation to take place.
“If they are in public office, they must not use the power of their office to obstruct the pursuit of truth,” he said. “Let the Ombudsman do its task to investigate and prosecute those who are at fault. The judiciary is the proper venue to bring out justice. Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.
Villegas urged those at fault to come out and admit their wrongdoing rather than hurl denials and counteraccusations, saying these have only muddled the issue and caused confusion among the people.
But he emphasized that admitting one’s fault would not be enough.
“What is stolen must be returned. The good name destroyed must be repaired,” he said.
Villegas also appealed to the media to be fair to protect the good name of people. “Let those who have been implicated be given proper forum and proper coverage to explain their actions,” he said.
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