Veil of silence,veil of secrecy
Two weeks ago, a bombshell exploded in France with the release of an investigation report on the sexual abuse of minors by church clerics. The report issued by an “Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church,” revealed that over the past 70 years, since 1950, more than 200,000 adolescents mostly boys aged 10 to 13, had been sexually abused by thousands of French priests. The independent commission headed by Jean-Marc Sauvé was set up by the Bishops’ Conference of France and the Conference of Religious in France in response to calls for greater action in addressing the problem.
As a result of the publicity that accompanied the release of the report, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, was summoned by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin to explain his remarks made in a radio interview that the seal of the confessional is stronger and above the laws of the republic.
According to a Reuters news report, after the meeting Archbishop Beaufort reversed his position saying that the secrecy of the confessional should not take precedence over French laws on sex crimes against minors and that the confession rites must comply with the need to protect children. He asked for forgiveness from the victims and from those offended by what he had earlier said in the interview. In another news report from La Croix International, a Catholic daily, Darmanin praised the courage of the Catholic Church for having addressed the issue squarely with the creation of the investigation body. He reaffirmed the primacy of French laws saying, “I took the liberty of telling him again, as I say to each of the religions, that there is no law superior to the laws of the Republic.” A Catholic News Agency report stated that Beaufort was able to discuss with Darmanin the clumsy wording of his comments about the confessional seal.
Last week’s column brought in some interesting letters. Jose Luis “Linggoy” Alcuaz writes that Archbishop Beaufort is a descendant of Francisco Roxas y Reyes, one of the 13 revolutionaries executed in Bagumbayan on Jan. 11, 1897. Linggoy adds that they are related through his grandmother Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas. Incidentally, the story goes that in 2018, Beaufort, Archbishop of Reims, was criticized for attending the inauguration of the Grand Mosque in Reims. His reply, “I would like Catholic men worried about the problem of Islam in our country to be as devoted to Mass or Eucharistic Adoration as the men I saw at the mosque at the time of prayer.”
Another letter from Louie Tordillo says “your interesting article resonates well and loudly in our midst after more than five centuries’ practice of Christianity. In my wife’s province of Pangasinan, we knew of a priest who impregnated several women after being moved from one parish to another after repeated transgressions. In my hometown in Leyte, our parish priest openly liaised with a young widow previously married to a relative while chasing teenage girls from the barrios and bore several illegitimate children in the process. During one audience with a bishop in Palo several years ago, I subtly asked his opinion on the matter; he calmly told me there is just no clear guidance from their hierarchy on the matter. This really came to me as a shock. No wonder our other parish priest at that time was immediately sent for re-education to a church-run convent in Tagaytay after failing to follow financial administration guidelines. Earlier I discovered this particular priest’s passion and preference for minor altar boys during my regular visits to his parish. I bet there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of such cases happening in our country involving the clergy.”
The president-elect of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is Bishop Pablo Virgilio David better known as “Bishop Ambo,” a courageous fighter in the war on drugs. He takes over on Dec. 1 this year. As in France, the CBCP can initiate the formation of an independent commission made up of respected members of the community to address the problem and remove the veil of silence and secrecy that is all-pervasive in our country. In the Gospel on the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila last Friday, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”
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