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Priest in ivory scandal suspended earlier by Vatican for sexual abuse

A Catholic priest linked to ivory smuggling was suspended on orders of the Vatican earlier this year over charges that he sexually abused an altar boy while he was serving as a priest in Los Angeles over 20 years ago. The charges of abuse against Monsignor Cristobal Garcia are currently being investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reported. "Msgr. Garcia was suspended from ministry in the Archdiocese of Cebu because of separate accusations of sexual abuse," it added. A separate report on dzBB radio early Thursday quoted Cebu Archdiocese spokesman Msgr. Achilles Dakay as saying Garcia was suspended and stripped of his positions as early as June. Garcia is not allowed to say Mass in public and hear confessions. The report said he is currently confined at a private hospital in Manila. A 2005 report by Brooks Egerton in the Dallas Morning News said Garcia admitted to having sex with an altar boy, who has obtained a financial settlement. Garcia was expelled by the Dominican religious order after a nun told police that an altar boy had been found in his bed in a Los Angeles rectory, said the report, which was posted on the Bishop Accountability website. The report said Garcia fled to his hometown Cebu Archdiocese, where an unnamed source claimed the priest "is nearly untouchable because his family is one of the richest in the Philippines." Egerton, who also republished his 2005 report on the Dallas News website, wrote that Garcia was one of over 200 Catholic clergymen found to have crossed international borders to escape justice and stay in ministry. Ivory smuggling Garcia was linked to alleged ivory smuggling after National Geographic magazine featured his collection of religious figurines carved from ivory. Earlier, Cebu Archbishop and Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines president Jose Palma said Garcia’s case has been elevated to the Vatican, which initiated an investigation long before the smuggling controversy erupted. Still, Palma sought a fair hearing for Garcia on the charges against him. On the other hand, Palma said the Catholic Church supports the ban on the ivory trade “as it is consistent with her doctrine on stewardship of creation.”   “While ivory artifacts crafted long before the ban are considered the cultural heritage of the Church, in no way does she encourage the use of ivory for new implements,” he said in a statement, adding that "the account given by National Geographic Magazine needs to be assessed as to its veracity, considering that the article smacks of bias against religious practices." In 1981, the Philippines became a signatory to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits the killing, selling, buying and collecting of endangered species. Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau director Mundita Lim said should Garcia be proven to have bought ivory tusks and had these carved after 1981, he can be charged with the illegal possession of a by-product of an endangered species. Malacañang said the National Bureau of Investigation is already conducting an investigation on the matter with the help of the Bureau of Customs. — Carmela G. Lapeña /LBG/HS, GMA News