Cardinal favors ‘persona non grata’ status for journalist

Posted on October 2, 2012



If he had his way, Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal would have National Geographic Magazine writer Bryan Christy  declared persona  non grata or unwelcome  in  Cebu for  his “Ivory Worship” article  that linked a Cebu priest to the illegal  ivory trade.

Vidal’s reaction was reported by ABS-CBN TV Patrol Central Visayas, which  said the prelate was upset by Christy’s artlcle that quoted  Msgr. Cristobal Garcia as naming  ivory carvers of Sto. Nino icons n Manila   and giving tips on how to smuggle them to the United States, allegations which the cardinal said were misquotations and pictured Catholic devotees as “idolaters”.

“He (Christy) deceived us and he deceived the people whom he interviewed when he said he was trying to publish something about the devotion (to the Sto. Niño),” Vidal said during the TV interview.

(Technically, persona non grata status is a  declaration  for unwanted diplomats made by the  host State although the term is commonly used to mean a person who is ostracized or rejected.)

Vidal also clarified that the Church never teaches   people to worship  religious  statues  which would be  contrary to Catholic faith.

Icons of the Sto. Niño are shown reverence and affection as a  representation of the child Jesus, like family photos of a  beloved parent,  but they are not worshipped, church catechists usually explain.

“(Brian Christy) tried to tell the people that he was trying to publish something about the devotion (to Sto. Niño) and all of a sudden this comes out, in contrast,” Vidal said.

The TV report said that if Vidal had his way, he would want to impose  the ‘persona non grata’ status on Christy.

“Ivory Worship” is the October cover story of National Geographic, the result of a two-year investigation of the ivory trade in various countries, including Thailand, Africa, the Philippines and China, with China identified as having the biggest demand  for elephant tusks.

The mention of Cebu has  led to an  investigation here by a joint team of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB)  which wants to check the   ivory collection in  Msgr. Garcia’s  diocesan  shrine in Talisay and those in the hands of private collectors and the Cebu Archdiocese.

The increased slaughter of elephants in Africa was traced to a heightened  demand for ivory, which National Geographic reported was partly fueled by its use as religious icons of Catholics and  Buddhists.

“The Philippines’ ivory market is small compared with, say China’s, but it is centuries old and staggeringly obvious,” wrote Christy, who also said “By all accounts, China is the world’s greatest villain when it comes to smuggled ivory.”

The most  dramatic  quotes  of the article, however, come in his interviews with two Filipino priests, including Garcia and another from Malolos, Bulacan   at the beginning of  “Ivory Worship”, right after the first paragraphs describing a  January 2012 slaughter of hundreds of elephants in Africa by horseriding poachers in a single attack.

Christy interviewed Msgr.  Garcia and other heritage advocates in Cebu , where he visited several times to witness the Feast of the Sto. Niño in Cebu City and the Holy Week procession in Bantayan island.  He described  the “Hubo” ritual in the feast, saying the disrobed wooden statue of Jesus Christ is dunked in barrels of waters, “for the church’s holy water for the year, to be sold outside.”  (This particular description of the ritual has angered archdiocese officials who said it was not true that this is holy water for sale.)

“(The article is) telling us we are idolaters. We never  told anybody to adore (statues). It’s against our faith,” Vidal said.

Meanwhile, the former Cebu archbishop said he’s preparing  documents for the investigation of the 1980’s child abuse case against  Msgr. Garcia that was recently revived  by the Vatican.

The National Geogrphic article mentioned Msgr. Garcia’s past case. This in turn  led to the revelation by the Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma that an  ongoing inquiry by the Holy See  prompted the suspension of Msgr. Garcia earlier in June.

“Of course I have a lot of things to explain. Even if the Holy See will ask me about it, I have here the documents,” Vidal said.

He and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma are leaving soon for the Vatican to attend a synod of bishops and prepare for the Oct. 21 canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod. /Senior Reporter Marian Z. Codilla

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