The Philippines’ largest association of Catholic bishops apologized Monday for what it called “cases of grave sexual misconduct” by hundreds of Filipino priests during the past two decades, including child abuse, homosexuality and romantic affairs.
The 120-strong Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said it was drafting guidelines on how to deal with offenses committed by clergy in one of Asia’s two predominantly Roman Catholic nations. They will include encouraging victims of assaults to file criminal charges said the group’s president, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo.
He estimated about 200 of 7,000 priests nationwide may have committed various types of sexual misconduct and abuses over the past 20 years. He declined to provide details of the cases and the actions taken by the church.
“To the various crises in society, we must now, with great sorrow and shame, add problems in the church,” said a statement by the bishops that was read at a news conference. “We confess that cases of grave sexual misconduct by clerics and (and other members of) religious (orders) in the Philippines have rocked the bark (boat) of Peter. Sexual misconduct on the part of shepherds of the flock betrays the holy priesthood that Christ has shared.”
The bishops’ statement, read by Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of central Cebu province, said “forgiveness and apologies must flow into a commitment to be purified and renewed. That is what we resolve to do.”
Church officials have traditionally avoided publicly discussing sexual offenses by priests, who are usually among the most revered and influential leaders in Philippine communities, especially in rural areas.
When sexual scandals involving Catholic priests in the United States erupted early this year, several Philippine newspapers began reporting on abuses by local priests. There had been individual acknowledgment of the problem by only a few Philippine church leaders until Monday’s admission by the bishops.
One of the news reports dealt with the existence of a religious shelter in metropolitan Manila suspected of caring for priests’ children. There also have been numerous reports of priests taking wives in violation of strict rules on celibacy.
In the absence of a protocol dealing with the problem, Quevedo said the church has meted punishments provided for under the Canon Law, the universal law governing the Catholic church.
The protocol being drafted by the bishops is to be ready by July next year. It will act as a guideline for local churches in dealing with sexual offenses by priests. The harshest punishment has been dismissal from the priesthood, Quevedo said.
The bishops said the protocol “will provide steps for profound renewal.”
While there are erring priests, Quevedo said most priests and church leaders remain committed to their religious obligations, hoping for “a holy Church.”
“This is the message we wish to proclaim to you as we journey through a series of storms whose waves threaten to swamp both church and society,” the bishops said.