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Monsignor charged with human trafficking

The recent arrest of a monsignor accused of trafficking a 13-year old minor who was arrested with a child in his car on the way to a motel in Marikina is highly unusual. The parish priest is being charged with a violation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
Most cases of alleged clerical child abuse go unreported or are covered up in The Philippines and in other countries too, but the scandal of clerical child abuse has left thousands of child victims without redress, help, therapy or a chance for justice.
The Philippine Child Protection Law, otherwise known as Republic Act 7610, has a provision in Section Six that is designed to criminalise an act where a child is taken to a secluded place in a vehicle or a motel, by an adult who is not a relative, for purposes of sexual abuse.
This provision of the law is to prevent any act of rape taking place and to bring the suspect to justice.
The institutional Church, or the hierarchy, has in many countries been shown to have failed in its obligation and duty to protect children and actively pursue clerical child abusers when the evidence was strong and clear.
In the past, Church institutions in different countries even facilitated payoffs to parents of child victims and tried to use influence with the authorities to have charges against priests and religious dropped. Others were moved around parishes when complaints of child abuse were made.
In many cases, no action was taken by Church authorities to protect the child and report the alleged abuser to the authorities. But there have been big changes in Church procedure in dealing with child abuse cases by clergy nowadays.
George Cardinal Pell, from Australia, the highest Vatican official to ever be charged, is facing allegations of having abused children and covered up other similar cases by clergy.
While we must respect the principle that everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, on the other hand, when there evidence, each person has a case to answer.
The case of the Filipino monsignor in Marikina is serious, as he was apprehended on the way to the motel with the 13-year old child. The mother reported it to the police so it is presumed that she knows the age of her child.
The monsignor also had a gun, which he surrendered to the authorities. The girl had previously told social workers that the man brought her to the motel before in June and warned her at gunpoint not to allow other customers to book her.
Everyone has to answer for their behaviour no matter what station they hold in life. The higher their ascendency and position, the greater the responsibility to answer the charges and all are to be dealt with equally before the law.
In our experience at PREDA of helping victim-survivors of child sexual abuse and seeking justice for them, the majority of abusers are in fact neighbours or family friends (32 per cent).
After that, the worst offenders are step-fathers or the mother’s live-in partner (20 per cent) and then the biological father (17 per cent), immediate family (seven per cent) and in-laws (12 per cent), police or authority figure (three per cent) and grandfathers (three per cent).
This indicates how vulnerable children are to the crimes of adults against them when they are so weak and dependent. The youngest child in our foundation home for abused girls is six-years-old.
The average age of the victim-survivors is 14. The fact there have been no child abuse cases brought out in public against clergy is quite significant and it can be presumed they are being protected.
We have had legal success every year with the courageous children who have testified in court and spoken without fear about the abuse they suffered. We win an average of four convictions a year.
This year, we succeeded with the prosecutor to have three cases of child sexual abuse and multiple rape elevated to the regional trial courts in their respective jurisdictions.
We hope another three cases we filed will go to trial this year also. The prosecutors, now mostly female, are dedicated and are people of integrity.
We hope that everybody will support victim-survivors so that justice, elusive as it maybe, will prevail.

• Father Shay Cullen