Palma urges fair trial on priest tagged in ivory smuggling

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Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma

MANILA, Sept. 26, 2012— Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma is supporting an investigation against one of his priests who was caught in a controversy involving ivory smuggling in the country.

Palma, who is currently the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said that he had no qualms about any probe for Monsignor Cristobal Garcia to clear his name.

Responding to allegations against Garcia, known for his collections of religious icons carved from ivory, Palma said the priest deserves a ‘fair and just hearing.’

The archbishop said he will not tolerate misdeeds among Cebu clergy if allegations against them are proven true.

“Why will I defend somebody if he committed something illegal?” Palma said.

He also clarified that the Catholic Church supports the ban on ivory, “as it is consistent with her doctrine on stewardship of creation.”

Palma noted that he himself is a co-signatory on People for Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) “Free Mali” campaign, which is fighting to get Mali (the elephant at the Manila Zoo), sent to a sanctuary.

The church, he emphasized, does not condone ivory smuggling or other illegal activities, although in the past, ivory was one of the materials used in the adornment of liturgical worship.

While these 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 the National Geographic report, it mentioned that Garcia while serving as a priest in Los Angeles, California sexually abused an altar boy in his early teens and was expelled from the Dominican Order.

Msgr. Cristobal Garcia

“Back in the Philippines, he was promoted to monsignor and made chairman of the Cebu’s Archdiocesan Commission on Worship,” part of the article, written by Bryan Christy, read.

However, Palma said that Garcia’s case has been elevated to the Vatican, which initiated an investigation long before the present controversy erupted.

The Church is also aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty, he said.

In recent pronouncements, according to him, the Church has stated her regret for the failure to address the problem in a more decisive and effective way.

“The principles stated above should guide us in resolving the matter concerning the alleged involvement of Msgr. Garcia in the illegal ivory trade, always bearing in mind the right of the person concerned for a fair and just hearing,” he said.

“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,” he added.

The ranking church official also clarified Christy’s claim on the supposed perception of the religious icons among Filipino Catholics.

“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,” Palma explained.

“Any encouragement promoting such idolatry is contrary to Church belief and must be purified,” he said. [RL/CBCPNews]


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