The best child protection laws but little church accountability

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

Some of the best and well written-child protection laws are in the Philippines. However, it is enforcement that is lacking. There are few convictions of child abusers. Without the rule of law being enforced, there will never be an end to child sexual abuse. The Philippines is like “a fun house of sexual abuse” with international connections through online abuse.

At a recent meeting with five judges in Cebu, the president of the Preda Foundation, Francis Bermido Jr., and its executive director, Emmanuel Drewery, were earnestly requested by the judges to open a therapeutic healing center/home for girl victims of sexual abuse and exploitation in Cebu. The Preda Foundation, with German partner Aktionsgruppe, already manages a thriving home for boys in Liloan, Cebu. That project rescues teenagers from horrible subhuman conditions in government detention cells and empowers them to start a new positive life based on spiritual values and education.

The five judges explained that young girl abuse victims do not show up to testify. They have likely been threatened by the family of the accused if the child testified against the accused. Without the testimony of the child, the case has to be dismissed. “There is no justice without protection and testimony of the victim,” they rightly said. “We need Preda here with a home for girl victims.” The judges know the significant track record of the children empowered and healed at the Preda Foundation home in Zambales. Many of the children are winning their court cases after a few months in the protection of the Preda home for girls.

The children in the Preda homes have won no less than a stunning 21 convictions of their 17 abusers and three traffickers in court cases. One of the convicted abusers is a government employee and a teacher with the Department of Education. These convictions ensure that these perpetrators go to jail and can no longer pose a threat to any children. Most abusers convicted received life sentences. The judges want the same victories for child victims in Cebu. According to the official Preda published report: “The legal complaints were filed by a total of 32 child victim-survivors (29 females, 3 males). Of these 32 victims, 17 are children victims of human trafficking, 14 are victims of sexual abuse/rape, and one is a victim of physical abuse.

The pending arrest and jailing without the possibility of bail of Catholic priest Karole Reward Ubiña Israel, 29, assistant parish priest in Solana, Cagayan, has shaken up the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Judge Dennis Mendoza of the Regional Trial Court Branch 4, Tuguegarao City, issued an arrest warrant against the priest on multiple rape and sexual assault charges of a 15-year-old church volunteer, “Angelica” (not real name). The Preda Foundation is supporting Angelica.

The child with her parents rejected an offer by another priest of the diocese of free education to college if she dropped the charges. She and her parents refused and demanded justice. Such attempts to cover up the crimes of priests are illegal according to church law, as the Pope said in his apostolic letter, Vos estis lux mundi.” The many good priests and bishops defending human rights and child victims will welcome the possibility of justice for Angelica; as Jesus of Nazareth said, children are the most important in the world, and abusers should receive penance as a millstone tied around their necks, and they are thrown into the sea (Matthew 18:1-7). His strongest condemnation of abusers and what he said about hypocrites being corrupt. (Matthew 23:23-27)

Youth and child victims of clerical abuse and their supporting parents can take heart in reporting abuse. They are supported by Pope Francis and the Vatican committee on the protection of children, and the Preda Foundation.

In June 2021, the Vatican published a new code of Canon law dealing with child abuse in the church. It is clear and specific in directing that bishops must take immediate action to investigate abuse by a cleric when a complaint is made.

The historical papal instruction says that “actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical [Church] investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious” for sexual abuse are forbidden under penalty. When I personally met Pope Francis in 2015 at the Vatican as a consultant on child protection, he was adamant about ending child abuse in the church and the world. His apostolic letter, which has become part of Canon Law, warns anyone in the church or parish that tries to harass or interfere with the family of a child victim in a complaint against a priest. Anyone who does can be charged with attempted obstruction of justice and harassment.

Bishops warned that pedophile priests must take action to protect potential victims. There are priests protected by bishops working in Philippine dioceses who have been charged or convicted of child sexual abuse. Some are named in the report “Clergy Misconduct among Priests in the Philippines: Key Cases.” This was published on the website of SNAP ( Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) on, quoting the website

There are only 12 named, and all deny the allegations. It includes six priests who are wanted by the US authorities accused of child sexual abuse in the USA. More arrests are possible. One of the 12 is Father JS, a priest in the Diocese of Bohol who is on a diocesan committee. He was convicted of abusing a 15-year-old boy in Michigan in 1988. He is still allegedly working with children.

Another Father, AD, is active in the Diocese of Sorsogon. He is accused of sexual abuse of a teenager in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which he denies. When it surfaced that Father AD was in a diocese in the Philippines, Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahoney wrote to the Vatican saying Father AD should not be in a ministry involving young people.

The report also mentions a father, M “B” M, an OSB who is teaching at a school in Manila but who fled from the United States after three child victims’ families accepted financial out-of-court settlements. He is wanted for questioning by police. He denied all allegations. Another active parish, Father A.” J” M. of the O.S.A., allegedly admitted sexually molesting three boys in Cebu City but was never brought to accountability. The list goes on.

Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of, said that Pope Francis “can help prevent and stop the dangerous practices of Filipino bishops that surely are enabling the sexual abuse of children and young people.”
Whatever the outcome of the trial of Father Israel, it will show that the judicial system is strong and unafraid of clerical influence and is working to defend the rights of abused children.

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