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Girl seeks bishops’ help in punishing priest she has accused of rape

By: - Reporter / @mj_uyINQ
/ 06:48 PM September 23, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—A 17-year-old girl from Agusan del Norte who has accused a priest of raping her on Friday sought the intervention of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in her quest for justice.

The girl, who preferred to be called Leah, which is not her real name, was accompanied by members of the women’s party-list group, Gabriela, when she dropped by the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila, to deliver a letter seeking the bishops’ guidance and intercession.

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“I want to talk to the bishops and ask them to act on my case and to not cover up for the offense committed by one of their priests,” said Leah, clad in an orange blouse and dark pants, her very long hair tied in a ponytail.

Last month, the girl claimed that Fr. Raul Cabonce, then parish priest of St. Anne Parish in Tubay town, sexually assaulted and raped her several times while she was working under his care.

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Based on Gabriela’s letter to the CBCP, the alleged abuse began on Sept. 16, 2010 and was repeated the following month.  The abuse allegedly escalated to rape on March 3 and 14 this year.

“We write for your advice and guidance on how we can seek justice for Leah,” stated the letter, which was received by CBCP secretary general Msgr. Juanito Figura.

It added, “We know that the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has its tribunal of its own to make an in-depth investigation on erring priests, as pronounced by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz.”

Figura told the group that the CBCP did not have the right to intervene since the case has been filed with  the Butuan Regional Trial Court.  “The most prudent thing is to wait for the decision of  the court,” he said.

As for the guidance the group was seeking, the CBCP official suggested that they could write or seek an audience with the diocese of Butuan, which has jurisdiction over Cabonce.

“As a matter of policy, the CBCP has no authority over the diocese of Butuan because each bishop has his own power and authority over his own authority… so the CBCP cannot tell them what to do and what not to do,”  Figura explained.

He added that it was the bishop of Butuan, the Most Rev. Juan de Dios Pueblos, who must initiate the investigation.  De Dio Pueblos confirmed earlier he had transferred the priest to the Bishop’s Palace in Butuan City.

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“As of now, we have not received information if he already [did] since the usual process is that the bishop responsible will be the one to organize the body to conduct the investigation.”

Cruz, who chairs the CBCP’s National Tribunal of Appeals, earlier stated that cases of such gravity involving a minor must be sent for trial and judgment to the Vatican, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.

The bishop supervising the accused priest should gather criminal evidence and if he finds the case has  merit, it must be forwarded to Rome, noted Cruz.

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