Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was first published in Interaksyon.com on August 31, 2011.
“Priest organizations around the country, both local and national, should realize that their membership has a serious image problem and undertake programs to improve it.” – Fr. Andrew Greeley
Question: What is worse than Mideo Cruz sticking a penis on Christ’s face?
Answer: A Catholic priest sticking his penis into an unwilling minor.
Question: What could be worse than that?
Answer: A bishop sticks his nose in and offers protection to the erring priest. (No pun intended.)
She is seventeen, a parish scholar working as a housemaid in the priest’s convent. One day the priest called her to his convent room, told her he was fatigued, and asked for a massage. To her shock and horror, she ended up being massaged. Several days later the priest asked for another massage. He massaged her again. Eleven days later he asked for another massage. This time the young girl got more than a massage. And that’s probably what drove her to finally speak out, risking not only her scholarship but also the curse that the priest threatened to lay on her and her family if she ever told anyone about their massage sessions. Last week, the Agusan del Norte provincial prosecutor charged Fr. Raul Cabonce of the St. Anne Parish in Tubay, Agusan del Norte with two counts of rape, child abuse in relation to Republic Act 7610, and acts of lasciviousness.
Cabonce denied the allegations and described them as “trumped-up” by his enemies. A judge will decide who is telling the truth. In the meantime what happens to Cabonce?
He is taken into custody by his bishop, Juan de Dios Pueblos, and reassigned to another parish. Don’t be surprised, Pueblos is only following the Catholic Church’s standard operating procedure for sex scandals involving priests: keep it under wraps.
When Bishop Crisostomo Yalung of Antipolo fathered a love-child with his mistress, the Church simply spirited him away to the US. The Church offered no explanation for his sudden departure other than that he left to do some “soul searching.”
The Church acted in similar fashion with Bishop Teodoro Bacani who was reassigned twice following allegations of sexual misconduct, first from Paco to Caloocan and then from Caloocan to Novaliches where his secretary finally accused him of molesting her.
Pueblos’ action comes as no surprise. What is surprising, however, is Bishop Oscar Cruz criticizing Pueblos for protecting Cabonce because Cruz was CBCP president when Bacani’s Paco parishioners wrote to him detailing Bacani’s activities. But Cruz simply dismissed the complaints saying, “I did not find the letter-senders credible.”
Cruz is singing a different tune now. Did he change? Or is he just getting back at Pueblos?
In 2008, Pueblos warned then CBCP president Bishop Angel Lagdameo that he “should be extra careful. He should distance himself from the influence of Archbishop Cruz. He should smell danger. If he does not listen to the majority, I think there would be moves to replace him as president of CBCP.”
Pueblos, the Gloria diehard, tried to isolate Cruz, the anti-Gloria. Now it’s payback time. Cruz took a swipe at Pueblos for harboring the accused priest. He said Cabonce was “causing scandal and embarrassment to the Church” and added, “If the bishop concerned will not take this matter seriously, his other priests would learn the wrong way of being priests.”
The thing is Pueblos does not see himself walking down the wrong path. He did not see that it was wrong to ask Gloria to gift him with an SUV for his birthday. He did not see that it was wrong to beg Gloria to lift the suspension of Sulpicio Lines, the owner of MV Princess of the Stars that set sail at the height of Typhoon Frank and sank with more than 800 passengers on board.
The reason Pueblos gave for interceding on behalf of Sulpicio’s owners is classic, much better than the one he gave for the SUV.
“I went to Malacañang the other day because of the request of the owner of the Sulpicio Lines…It’s the only livelihood they have. Kasi wala naming ibang source of income ang Go family kundi ang shipping industry so yun ang purpose ng paghingi ng tulong nila sa akin…They are also with the Oasis of Spirituality, so we have already a sort of relationship.”
Pueblos knows corruption will not bring down the Church. Not in a corrupt country anyway. But sex scandals will. I hope he realizes that.