How the Catholic Church Deals with Sexual Abuse Cases

With lots of money, apparently, in the time-honored manner of the institutional Church.

In a recent Associated Press news report carried in the Inquirer, an American woman received a settlement of US$500,000 from the archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic archdiocese in the U.S. Rita Milla, now 46 years old, was apparently sexually abused by seven (7) Roman Catholic priests since she was a minor and impregnated by one of them. Ms. Milla, along with hundreds of other victims, sued the L.A. archdiocese for hundreds, if not thousands, of instances of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, many involving pedophilia. The payment was part of the US$ 660 million collective settlement reached by the archdiocese with past abuse victims.

The case of Milla is noteworthy in that it involved Filipino priests. With the decline in American religious vocations, and the Pinoy propensity to immediately fill in any gaps in the worldwide labor force, Filipino priests who underwent formation in the Philippines have increasingly been posted overseas, specially in American cities with significant Filipino communities. I myself have a relative who is a parish priest in the U.S. These events have caused shame and dismay among the clergy and laity alike, if not outright disgust at the way sexual abuse cases are dealt with by the church hierarchy.

Which is to say, through a conspiracy of silence and structures of deceit, in the words of Garry Wills . Ms. Milla herself took more than two decades to attain some measure of justice, having initiated her complaint way back in 1984. In the words of the AP news item:

“Milla first filed her case in 1984 after she said she was abused as a teenager by priests in the Los Angeles area.
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A state court found in 2003 that a Filipino priest, Fr. Valentine Tugade, fathered Milla’ s daughter, now 25. Another Filipino priest, Father Santiago Tamayo, had admitted had sex with Milla and publicly apologized years before his death in 1996.

The diocese refused to comment on Milla’s case and the whereabouts of the remaining priests.

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Milla has maintained that she was molested by Tamayo at a church in Carson when she was 16. After she turned 18, she says, she had sexual intercourse with Tamayo and he introduced her to six other priests who also abused her.

After she was impregnated in 1982 by Tugade at a church in the Los Angeles area, Milla said Tamayo first suggested that she get an abortion, but later devised a plan to send her to the Philippines to have the child.

Milla returned to California after giving birth to her daughter, Jacqueline, and pleaded with the archdiocese for help but was refused.
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On the day Milla sued 23 years ago, all seven of the accused priests disappeared from the their parish offices, said her attorney, Gloria Allred.

Tamayo relocated to the Philippines in the mid-1980s. In 2004, Allred released documents showing the church urged Tamayo to stay in that country after Jacqueline’s birth and mailed him checks.

In three letters dating from June 1984 to August 1988, church officials advised him not to reveal the source of the payments “unless requested under oath,” noting that he was “liable for personal suits arising out of your past actions.”

Milla, now a medical assistant who lives in southern Los Angeles County, said that she hasn’t spoken with Tugade since shortly after her return from the Philippines.
Tugade, who was last known to be living in Fremont in Northern California, never expressed interest in caring for the child, she said.

“He was disappointed actually that she wasn’t a boy,” Milla said.”

A consistent pattern of denial and cover-up, and the whisking away of the culprits to safe havens, has been exhibited by the Church. Worse, once things cool off, these serial offenders and outright perverts are routinely reassigned to other parishes whose members are unaware of their troubled past. If all else fails, the victims are paid off with money which are from the pockets of the innocent faithful.

What compounds the tragedy is that it is the religious and devout who are the most vulnerable to these wolves in priestly robes. And children, most of all, are easy targets for sexual predators. Columnist, historian and social commentator Garry Wills, a practicing Catholic himself, explains in his book, Papal Sin:

“One of the most poignant things about cases of priests molesting children or youths is that they go, naturally, for their easiest targets — good Catholic families. As a report on a survey of clinicians dealing with child abuse put it: “Religious professionals’ role as unquestioned moral leaders apparently gave them special access to children, much like the access that trusted family members have in incest cases. Devout Catholic families will be the least suspicious of a priest’s conduct and the most intimidated about challenging the church. They will also, precisely of their faith and trust, be the most deeply seared by betrayal. The Maglini family of Dallas, Texas, is a good example. Pious people, more than tithing their wordly goods to the church, they had priests in their family and circle of friends. They felt grateful for the attention given their children by these eminent men of God. That is why it was such a shock for their older son, Mike, to wake up with a priest clawing his hips and trying to thrust his penis into his anus.”

These events are not peculiar to the U.S. and frequency happen in the Philippines. However, the vow of celibacy seems much less a burden to Filipino priests than their colleagues abroad, which could explain their prominent role in the Milla case. A priest of my acquaintance, once the demands of running a problematic parish builds up, seeks the companionship of the members of a profession even older than his own, oftentimes in Cubao and environs, and returns rejuvenated in body, if not in spirit. He claims that he is not alone in this practice. And a friend of mine was in college when she learned that her father was also a Father, with a capital “F”, and was the pastor of a largish town in a nearby province. He was not an absentee father, as such, although he would sometimes be away for weeks at a time attending to his priestly duties. The upside is they never had to look far during the times when a priest was needed, like house blessings and funerals.

And clerical shenanigans are not limited to sexual sins, but involve financial tomfoolery as well. Our own parish priest of a few years back was relieved for financial improprieties which allowed to build a mansion for his rumored paramour. And nuns are prone to this too. The all-girls Catholic school where my daughter graduated from was in an uproar a few years ago over funds misappropriated by the School Directress, which led to student walk-outs, picketing and demonstrations by parents and even intervention by the Department of Education.

To be sure, sexual abuse is a complicated issue and there are many sides to the problem. Certainly, it is not limited to the Catholic church. But a nation that prides itself in being the only predominantly Christian country in Asia, the overwhelming majority being Catholic, cannot afford to turn a blind eye to such misdeeds, particularly if the Church as an institution helps to hide, if not inadvertently perpetrate, these unspeakable crimes.

The influence of the Catholic church in the Philippines is felt from cradle to grave (some would say from erection to resurrection), even among non-Catholics. A significant number of our brother Muslims are educated in Catholic schools. The Church remains a vital financial force all over the country, not only through its valuable landholdings, but also through its ownership of lucrative commercial ventures, including influential blocs in blue chip companies. It has played a significant political role in the country’s recent history. I, personally, although now a nominal Catholic, received my early education in Church schools and at present, quite literally, live in the shadow of the parish church.

Of course, there are many more virtuous, even saintly, men and women serving the Church than there are deviants. But the sins of a few, and the deplorable reaction of the Catholic bureaucracy in covering up for them, is enough to taint the whole institution. A church built on revealed truth cannot rely on lies and deceit to keep it going. It must hold those guilty of bringing it to shame and undermining its moral authority accountable and punish, not coddle, them.

3 thoughts on “How the Catholic Church Deals with Sexual Abuse Cases”

  1. I’m shocked by this issue. I never imagined such things to be done by a priest. And the worst of all, they’re Filipinos. What kind of formation do they had?
    I think their respective seminaries are partly to be blamed.
    But, inspite of these, I still believe in priests. I have hope in God that He will not let His church to be put in disgrace.
    I know that He still trusts in men and will continuously send His chosen ones to lead and care for His flock.

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