Predators in clerical attire
The arrest of Msgr. Arnel Lagarejos for allegedly booking a 13-year-old girl from a pimp is an absolutely shocking event and his reported actions have drawn the ire of many citizens. The burden of proof is now on the high-ranking monsignor, and how he should explain why he was apprehended en route to
taking the girl to a motel. If found guilty, Lagarejos faces serious jail time. He has been charged with violating the Anti-Child Abuse Law and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
Ironically, two days after the arrest, the United Nations celebrated World Day Against Human Trafficking. Even Pope Francis lambasted the evil of human trafficking in a Sunday Angelus message, calling it “a form of modern day slavery” and denouncing it as “brutal, cruel, and criminal.” It is downright embarrassing for the Church that this priest has been caught in such an act, so this would be a golden opportunity for Church leaders to show that they do not coddle abusive clerics.
Since the explosion of the clerical sex abuse scandals in the United States and other countries, many bishops and Church officials have come under fire for allegedly taking a soft stance on abusers. A handful of US dioceses have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements with abuse survivors. The bishops have also drawn flak for allegedly transferring the offending priests to other parishes
instead of pushing for their surrender to civil authorities.
Church officials would be wise to remember that if a clergyman has committed a crime, he is answerable both to the Church as well as the civil authorities. In this regard, the bishop of Antipolo has done the right thing in stripping Lagarejos of his duties in the diocese. The Code of Canon Law, in its chapter about offenses against obligations says: “A cleric who has offended in other ways against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the crime was committed by force, or by threats, or in public, or with a minor under the age of 16 years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants” (Can. 1395.2).
The bishops of the Philippines must keep their eye on this case and provide any information to the investigators that might be relevant to its resolution. They should not repeat the mistakes of the past where Filipino priests accused of abuses were simply transferred to distant assignments to wait it out until public clamor has subsided. This will give the faithful the confidence that they are safe from predators in clerical attire who are unfaithful to the promises they made before God and His people. A firm policy against abusive priests will contribute to the strengthening of the Catholic faith.
GERARD BIAGAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
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