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Bishops vow cooperation with authorities on sex abuse

Bishops vow cooperation with authorities on sex abuse

Catholic bishops gather for Mass at the start of their 112th plenary assembly at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Jan. 22, 2016. ROY LAGARDE

By Roy Lagarde

February 6, 2016

Manila, Philippines

Filipino Catholic bishops have assured cooperation with civil authorities on sexual abuse by clerics that has tarnished the Church’s image around the world.

In a pastoral exhortation, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the bishops are determined to make sure the Church is a safe environment for all Catholics, especially for children.

The statement, crafted during its plenary assembly in Cebu City last month, intends to guide the dioceses based on a global approach but in line with local criminal law.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP President, said both the universal and the local Church’s laws on sexual abuse remain in place and “demand strictest compliance.”

“Bishops will not pre-empt investigations by declaring innocence or pronouncing exoneration until after a thorough, impartial and credible evaluation of facts as established by competent evidence,” Villegas said.

The pastoral guideline states that no priest who is under investigation for child abuse or sexual harassment will be allowed to leave the diocese.

“The bishop, rather, shall take him under his supervision in the bishop’s residence to guarantee his availability for the process of investigation,” he said.

The same rule applies in respect to priests already facing trial, said Villegas.

According to the bishops, there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors, and there is much less no way of defending the abuse of children and the assault on vulnerable sectors in our society.

“The abuse and molestation of children is intrinsically wrong, and its repulsiveness does not admit of mitigation,” Villegas said.

The bishops are also resolute to protect the children from abuse and vowed to offer appropriate care for victims and their families.

“Child-victims of clerical abuse are to be attended to, the bishop seeing to the medical, psychological and spiritual care that they need,” Villegas said.

“Claims for financial assistance, damages or indemnity should await the proper disposition of the courts,” he added.

To root out sexual abuse of children by priests, the bishops also assured cooperation with the Vatican as a new commission on child protection, created by Pope Francis, started to work early last year.