Al Jazeera investigation reveals the growing problem of sexual misconduct in the Philippines’ powerful Catholic church.
Sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests in the Philippines are on the rise, according to senior church investigators.
But this new 101 East documentary reveals that prosecutions of priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse are extremely rare in Asia’s largest Catholic nation.
Some alleged victims say they have been pressured not to file charges and were paid money in exchange for their silence.
Imelda* was 15 years old when she says the priest in her village sexually assaulted her.
“After he kissed me on the forehead, he hugged me,” she recalled. “It was really painful. Why did he do that to me?”
She says that when her family discovered she had reported the incident to the police, they beat her.
“They actually beat me to the point that I was afraid to go home. They were angry with me. They were telling me that what I did was wrong. They treated me like a stray dog because of what I did, because I filed a case,” she says.
Then she claims a man and a woman from the church gave her $150 to drop the charges. Her case never went to court.
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, who heads the Catholic Church’s National Tribunal of Appeals in the Philippines, says he is receiving more complaints of sexual abuse involving priests, including allegations of paedophilia.
“The laity, especially in urban areas, have become rather alert and courageous in denouncing the errancy of priests,” he says.
“I may be offending other bishops but this is a personal stand, that gone are the days when you can just close your eyes and plug your ears … as if nothing is happening.”
Al Jazeera has also found that some Filipino priests are breaking the vow of celibacy and fathering children.
Father Elmer Cajilig, who has four children with his long-term girlfriend, says that the celibacy vow for ordained priests is “only a man-made rule”.
“God did not say this, so I think I cannot say that I’ve committed sin. I am just continuing His mandate … to go and multiply.”
Father Cajilig and two other priests who also fathered children have set up their own self-styled Catholic ministry, where they preach at privately owned churches.
They have written to the Vatican, asking to be accepted by the Church.
Father Jaime Achacoso, secretary of the Canon Law Society in the Philippines, condemns these ‘father’ priests, but says in some remote dioceses, one in five priests has had children.
“That’s the reality that happens in those areas where discipline, where the hierarchy is not so well-organised,” says Father Achacoso.
The Vatican did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment about how it handles allegations of clergy sexual misconduct and abuse in the Philippines.
When asked if Filipino bishops are obliged to report sexual assault allegations to civil authorities, Father Achacoso says all investigation should be left to the Church.
“A person is innocent until proven otherwise, and so the Church handles these cases with a lot of discretion, both to protect the dignity, the good name of the priest and also for the victim.”
* Name changed to protect her identity.
Follow Tiffany Ang on @tiffeeang