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Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuse and Misconduct by the Clergy

March 22, 2010 ·  ,


The guidelines are unequivocal in recognizing that “clergy who engage in any form of sexual misconduct are violating their vows and the ministerial relationship. They are misusing their authority and power and are taking advantage of the vulnerability of those who are seeking spiritual guidance.”18 The guidelines also state that “the respect and reverence with which people approach the church’s ministers necessarily denotes an imbalance of power and, hence, for clients a vulnerability inherent in the ministerial relationship. This is true to some degree even of sexual relationship with a consenting adult partner…This imbalance of power makes sexual behavior in a ministerial relationship unacceptable and unjust.”19

Although Paragraph 8 of the guidelines recognizes that “just like all other citizens, clerics and religious are subject to the civil and penal laws of the state” in the civil forum, Paragraph 24 only requires that “the response to cases of sexual abuse by the clergy must address the following: pastoral care of the victim, the healing of the community, the assessment of the accused, and the sanctions on and pastoral care of the offender.” While Paragraph 25 also makes mention of using standards of proof and evidence, no such standards were explicitly presented. Similarly, standards and criteria on who may qualify as “trained and competent personnel” to care for the victims were also not provided. As regards reparation, Paragraph 33 requires the priest-offender to exclusively shoulder the expenses attendant to the victim’s therapy. A diocese may provide financial assistance, but only “out of charity” and “within its means,” and the offender is required to reimburse the diocese for all expenses incurred.

All relevant guidelines that address how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse are subject to a small footnote that only states they are “without prejudice to the procedure provided by the motu proprio sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, 20 April 2001.” Both priest-formators had never heard of this footnote until their respective interviews. One of them was Vicar for the Clergy in his diocese; while the other is one of three people who have been counseling “erring” priests nationwide, as well as being head of formation for a major seminary. Last 15-18 November 2004, all Vicars for the Clergy in the Visayan andMindanao dioceses were “in Cebu to learn to respond to crisis, clergy abuse.”20 Vicars for the Clergy in Luzon had a similar gathering in Manila last 8-12 November 2004. These gatherings were part of the “consultation meetings for strengthening organizational structures of the commission” and for discussing “plans of ongoing formation.”21

On his part, Archbishop Rosales of the Diocese of Lipa, explained this to all members of his diocesan clergy in a close-door conference.22 He clarified that sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela23 is applied only in cases of bishops but not other members of the clergy and religious. Otherwise, this would create a scenario where they would have to wait for the Vatican’s advice for each case. Rosales went further in stating that any review of the CBCP guidelines should focus not on a “mere footnote” but rather on the requirements in Paragraph 24 that gives primary consideration to the pastoral care of victims.

The guidelines provide considerable discretion on the part of the bishop and religious superior. Other participants, if at all invited, merely play recommendatory roles. Even in “verified cases of criminal behavior,” the guidelines only require the bishop or superior to recommend that the Promoter of Justice begin a canonical process for appropriate canonical sanctions.24 Rosales clarified that this is no mere recommendatory role but rather a directive on the Promoter of Justice – who could be an elderly Monsignor, usually wellversed in canon law – to immediately begin proceedings. He even has the mandate to form an ad-hoc committee that could investigate the case.

One of the more problematic provisions in the guidelines is the claim that between a cleric and the bishop or religious superior, “there exists a relationship of trust analogous to that between father and son,” hence “it does not belong to the pastoral office of the bishop to denounce a priest to civil authorities.”25 No exceptions were considered. Given the inadequacy of Philippine child protection laws (see following section), this provision further aggravates the situation. It is worth noting that Philippine laws do not recognize this relation as defense in the non-reporting of a crime. Moreover, this provision begs several questions: what happens in cases where the priest-offender was caught by the bishop or religious superior or even fellow clergy in flagrante delicto? Or where multiple victims report only one offender? Or where one bishop transfers such an offender to another diocese? Is the receiving bishop assured of complete candor from the sending bishop regarding a cleric’s record, including reports of sexual misconduct?

Rosales commented that in the theological realm, a father-son relationship does exist between a bishop and his priest. In terms of clerical misbehavior or abuse, this relationship should be seen as that between a son and a good father who knows how to admonish and even punish the wrongs committed by the son. Rosales therefore agreed that reporting to civil or secular authorities must be done. Erring priests must not be coddled or protected, especially if a warrant of arrest has been issued. However, he was open in recognizing that this is still dependent on the bishops and priests involved.

While there is not compulsory reporting in the interest of the victims of sexual abuse, the CBCP is clear about defending itself when an accusation is proven false. Any and all activities that involve the civil forum are dismissed except for one instance: Paragraph 39 mandates a very transparent and public action by the bishop or superior in cases where the accusation has been established as false. That is, they must express in writing their “defense of and support for the accused. Bringing the accuser to court can be considered an option. If the media have already reported the false accusation, the bishop or superior should ask those involved in the reporting to clear the name of the falsely accused.” Evidently, the church finds use for the civil forum only when it proves beneficial to the accused cleric but not when it would benefit the children-victims who are minors and considered vulnerable by law. It should need no further emphasis that paramount consideration must always be for the abused children.

A bishop-member of the Commission on the Clergy who was perceived to have substantially drafted the guidelines was not able to grant a formal interview. However, in a phone conversation, he did mention that the guidelines are “under scrutiny” and up for possible revisions by January 2005. Rosales also acknowledged this possibility during his interview.


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