Vatican suspends Cebu priest

Posted on September 27, 2012


by Ador Vincent Mayol, Reporter


The Cebu-based priest at the  center of an ivory smuggling scandal  was ordered  suspended by the Vatican   but it was for another reason – a 20-year-old child abuse case in California involving altar boys.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma yesterday said the past case against Msgr. Cristobal Garcia was brought to the Vatican’s attention even before the priest’s name appeared in the October issue of  National Geographic magazine’s cover story “Ivory worship”.

“The Church is also aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty.  In recent pronouncements, the Church has stated her regret for the failure to address the problem in a more decisive and effective way,” said Palma who read a prepared statement before taking questions.

“Cultural practices have contributed to the misunderstanding of the problem.”

Pederasty is defined by Webster’s dictionary as  sexual relations between two males, especially when one of them is a minor.

Palma said the case is being investigated by the Vatican, and that Msgr. Garcia cannot officiate Mass in public, hear confessions or administer the sacraments.

The suspension  took effects sometime in June,  said Palma who implemented the order.

He  explained  that Garcia was also  removed from positions  held in the Cebu Archdicese.  Palma said other priests have taken over his duties as chairman of the Commission on Worship and spiritual director of covenant communities like the Bukas Loob sa Diyos.

Palma said the monsignor was in poor health and in a Makati hospital  for a medical checkup when he last spoke to him yesterday by phone.

Garcia  has not been seen in liturgical celebrations in Cebu since June and is not part of the church’s  prepartions for the Oct. 21 canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod in Rome.

“In regard to the matter of Msgr. Garcia’s past, the case has been elevated to the Holy See and it has initiated the investigation into it long before the present controversy erupted. I have also fulfilled the Holy See’s instructions regarding the submission of documents and acting upon related consequences,” Palma told reporters.

Palma begged off giving  details of the case, saying the media had already reported about it.

He was referring to published and online articles about  Garcia’s expulsion from the Dominican order in the 1980s when he was assigned in  Los Angeles, California where a complaint for sexual abuse was filed against him by an altar boy.

Msgr. Achilles Dakay, the Cebu Archdiocese’s media liaison officer, said  they were surprised to learn the case  was revived.

“I thought it was closed in the US as a civil case. I don’t know why it reached the Vatican as a church case,” he said.

Dakay said Garcia was held civilly liable in the US in the 1980s but a criminal case was brought before the Vatican’s attention sometime in 2005.

He said the monsignor could not travel to the United States anymore as a  consequence.

“He (Garcia) must have repented for what he did. He has done good but the crime remained. The hard aspect of a child abuse case is they can’t  differentiate between crime and sin. The sin is forgiven. (But) the crime remains,” he said.

Dakay said the filing of  child abuse cases has been  “big business” in the US but he  has no idea who revived the  issue with  the Vatican.

Garcia left the US after the child abuse scandal and was brought back to Cebu by the archbishop at the time, Julio Cardinal Rosales, who had ordained the Cebuano priest in the Dominican order.

Dakay said Garcia has done much for the local Church since he returned and became a diocesan priest.

“He founded a religious society. He has his own shrine. He is very good in liturgy. He has been printing our prayers. He has been responsible for setting up the main altar at the Cathedral. He must have repented but the crime remains,” Dakay said.

Dakay said Msgr. Garcia was informed about the revived case  against him before he was  hospitalized.

“I don’t know what will happen to him. He is deprived of so many rights as a priest. He (Archbishop Palma) said he is appealing with the Vatican to soften the possible penalties,” he said.

Garcia, who suffers  diabetes, hypertension, and a heart ailment, has been in and out of the hospital.

He was seen in Makati  last week  walking slowly with his cane, accompanied by a nurse, said Dakay based on an account of  another Cebu priest.

Garcia was expelled from the Dominican Order following accusations of child abuse in the 1980s.

Garcia was the last priest ordained by Cardinal  Rosales before the latter died in 1982.

In Cebu Garcia was elevated to the position of  monsignor during the term of Archbishop Cebu Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

The archdiocese has named  Fr. Glenn Therese Guanzon as  Garcia’s temporary replacement in the Commission on Worship.

Posted in: Uncategorized