CBCP: Priest in ivory smuggling mess deserves a fair and just hearing
Ivory carvings a lucrative trade in Manila. Rachelle Raspada, an attendant at the Changron antique shop in Intramuros, Manila on Wednesday shows a collection of religious images worth P160,000 which were made from elephant tusks or ivory. Danny Pata
Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines president and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma on Wednesday said that he supports an investigation into Msgr. Cristobal Garcia’s alleged involvement in ivory smuggling.
However, he added in an article posted Wednesday afternoon on the CBCP news site that Garcia deserves a "fair and just hearing."
A National Geographic Magazine report written by Brian Christy and titled “Ivory Worship” called Garcia "one of the best known ivory collectors in the Philippines." The story further alleged that the Catholic priest shared his know-how in ivory smuggling.
However, Palma said that the National Geographic story "needs to be assessed as to its veracity, considering that the article smacks of bias against religious practices.”
But if the allegations against Garcia are proven, Palma said he would not tolerate misdeeds in Cebu’s clergy. "Why will I defend somebody if he committed something illegal?"
Palma also corrected the article’s assertions regarding Filipino Catholics’ view on religious icons.
“While it is true that icons are venerated by us because through them we are able to tangibly express our faith in God and our devotion to the saints, in no way does the Church teach that these icons are in fact God Himself or the saints themselves,” he explained.
“Any encouragement promoting such idolatry is contrary to Church belief and must be purified,” he added.
Meanwhile, tweets from newspaper the Cebu Daily News said Palma felt betrayed by Christy who misrepresented the article as a story on Cebuanos’ devotion to the Sto. Niño.
The archbishop said he too was interviewed, but that the material did not appear in the article.
The Cebu Daily News reported that Garcia is currently confined in a Makati hospital.
Support for ban on ivory
Palma also said the Catholic Church supports the ban on the ivory trade “as it is consistent with her doctrine on stewardship of creation.”
The CBCP, said Palma, is a co-signatory of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) “Free Mali” campaign, which endeavors to send an elephant at the Manila Zoo to a sanctuary.
Furthermore, he said the church does not condone ivory smuggling or other illegal activities, though ivory was one of the materials used in the adornment of liturgical worship in the past.
While ivory artifacts crafted long before the ban are considered the Church's cultural heritage, the Church does not encourage the use of ivory for new icons.
As for the National Geographic report's claim that Garcia sexually abused a teenage altar boy and was expelled from the Dominican Order while he was a priest in Los Angeles, California, Palma said the Vatican is already looking into it.
Palma said Garcia’s case had been elevated to the Vatican, which initiated an investigation long before the present controversy erupted.
He added the Church is aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty. In recent pronouncements, the Church has stated her regret for the failure to address the problem in a more decisive and effective way. — Patricia Denise Chiu/DVM, GMA News