Gabriela said the CBCP should issue specific directives to Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos to stop coddling the accused priest. It also welcomed the statement earlier made by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, head of the Catholic Bishops National Tribunal of Appeals, that it is the duty of the Diocese of Butuan to commence Cabonce’s trial under canon law.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Stop protecting the priest who allegedly raped 17-year old Leah.
This was the demand issued by activist women’s group Gabriela to Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos after the latter admitted that Fr. Fraul Cabonce was under his custody. Cabonce is the parish priest of St. Anne Parish in Tubay, Agusan del Norte. He is being accused by a 17-year old high school graduate for sexually abusing and raping her while she was under his supposed care as a scholar of St. Anne Parish.
The victim, “Leah” came out earlier last week to expose Cabonce, saying that from September 2010 to April 2011, the priest subjected her to various forms of sexual abuse including forced oral sex and rape. Leah and her parents sought the help of Gabriela to help secure justice for the minor. The victim herself said she is determined to see the alleged perpetrator punished not only because of what he did to her, but because she wants him stopped from repeating the abuse to other children and women.
With the help of Gabriela, Leah filed charges of rape, acts of lasciviousness and child abuse against the priest last August 25.
According to Gabriela spokesperson for Caraga Atel Hijos, Cabonce has been temporarily relieved of his duties as parish priest and reassigned to the Bishop’s Palace in Caraga by Bishop Pueblos. The move has been met by protests from Leah’s supporters.
Gabriela secretary-general Lana Linaban said by taking Cabonce into his custody and deciding to merely transfer him to another parish, Bishop Pueblos is condoning the abusive act committed against Leah. “What the Bishop is doing is in violation of criminal laws and the law of the Church,” she said.
Linaban said Bishop Pueblos should surrender the alleged rapist to state authorities and let him face the criminal charges filed against him.
“Church authorities should also begin the process of trial against Cabonce under the Church Tribunal,” she added.
Members of the media in Butuan attempted to interview Pueblos but the bishop refused to comment on the issue.
Same bishop in PCSO investigations
“I am not the person you have to ask. We have a couple of speakers, not me. Bye,” he said to a reporter from the Philippine Star.
Pueblos is the same bishop who admitted that in 2009, he asked former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a brand new vehicle for his 66th birthday. It was subsequently exposed that the car – a Mitsubishi 4×4 Montero – was bought using funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. He admitted that he wrote a letter to Arroyo about his birthday gift and said it was unfortunate that his “shortcoming” was his “zeal.”
“My actions have been misconstrued . . . cast a shadow of uncertainty on my dignity and moral ascendancy as a bishop,” said Pueblos who stressed that it was “service to the public” that motivated him.
During the July senate blue ribbon committee investigations, a letter from the bishop addressed to the former president was read, and in it, Pueblos requested that he be given a “brand new 4×4” for his 66th birthday. He explained in the same letter that he needed the vehicle to help him go to the far-flung areas in his province.
Pueblos also said that he was using a seven year-old car that was no longer in good running condition.
In the same hearing, PCSO Chairperson Margarita Juico confirmed that the check issued for the purchase of the vehicle was paid to the diocese of Butuan and not to Pueblos.
Six other prelates besides Pueblos were discovered to have acquired vehicles during the Arroyo administration using P8.258 million from the PCSO. The vehicles have since been turned over to the charity agency last month.
The other prelates are Bishop Pueblos of Butuan, Archbishop Romulo G. Valles (Zamboanga), Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo (Cotabato), Bishop Leopoldo C. Jaucian (Bangued, Abra), Bishop Martin Jumoad (Isabela, Basilan), Bishop Rodolfo F. Beltran (Bontoc) and Archbishop Ernesto Antolin Salgado (Caritas Nueva Segovia).
Case should be immediately taken to the Vatican
Gabriela reiterated its call for the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and specifically the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to take necessary steps to ensure that Leah gets the justice she deserves. The group said the CBCP should issue specific directives to Bishop Pueblos to stop coddling the accused priest. It also welcomed the statement earlier made by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, head of the Catholic Bishops National Tribunal of Appeals, that it is the duty of the Diocese of Butuan to commence Cabonce’s trial under canon law.
Cruz declared last weekend that under canon law, cases which involve the welfare of minors are considered grave and serious and should be sent for trial and judgment to the Vatican in Rome. The Vatican is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
Cruz told the media that the bishop supervising the accused priest should gather criminal evidence, specifically testimonies and documentary regarding the case. If the bishop discovers that the case has preliminary merit, then the case should be sent to Rome.
“If the bishop concerned doesn’t want to gather the preliminary evidence himself, then he should assign one of his priests or his tribunal personnel to do it,” he said.
Cruz said in reports that this latest controversy is “a very big scandal” that causes the Church great shame and that the diocese cannot afford not to act on it. He also said that the priest being accused in this case should be tried before a criminal court and that if found guilty, he should be made to serve a life sentence. In the meantime, the priest ,Cruz said, should also be made to stand trial in front of the Church and if found guilty, should be dismissed from all clerical duties.
“In the diocese fails to act, the National Tribunal of Appeals could not interfere unless directed to do so by the papal nuncio,” he said.
Cruz explained that under ordinary circumstances, a case is presented for resolution to the Tribunal of First Instance. This tribunal has an office in all all dioceses and archdioceses all over the country. If a complainant is dissatisfied with the tribunal’s decision, then he or she can appeal it and the case will be elevated to the National Tribunal of Appeals. If the complaint remains unsatisfied, then the case will go to Rome.
The special circumstances of the victim and complainant in this case being minor, however, makes the case sensitive. “The Holy See has automatic jurisdiction over the case, ” Cruz said.
Gabriela’s Linaban said not only does Leah’s case negatively impact on the Church, but it is also a serious offense both against the Church and the law. “No cover-up should be allowed to take place and deny the victim justice. Justice should be blind to age, stature or religion and it should be given to Leah and all the victims of rape in this country and every where else in the world,” Linaban said.