Sunday, January 22, 2023

Philippines must end impunity for clergy sexual abuse : Fr Shay Cullen

 Victims of sexual abuse and members of Ending Clergy Abuse, a global organization of prominent survivors and activists stage a protest in Rome during a papal summit on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, in this Feb. 23, 2019 file photo. The placard reads We don't want promises anymore, we want action.

Priests and bishops like everyone else can be sinners and must be held responsible for crimes against children.

The protection of children from harm, and especially sexual abuse, is the prime responsibility of every parent and every adult especially those with moral and legal responsibility in Church and State.

An alleged child rapist priest, Karole Reward Ubina Israel, 29, of Solana, Cagayan was arrested last October and hopefully will be charged with child sex abuse in court. The child victim was 15 years old when she was allegedly first abused by him. The priest was suspended by his diocese soon after the arrest.

The process of law is progressing with the prosecutor deciding to send the rape charges to the court but Israel's lawyer asked for reconsideration, a normal legal action.

The first set of charges was based on the fact that he was arrested in the act of abusing a child. A charge of seduction of a minor put him in jail immediately. The accused applied to the court for bail and got it.

We are awaiting the decision of the prosecutor on the rape charges. Those charges are non-bailable and he will have to return to jail, unless he escapes abroad.

According to the testimony of the child victim, this priest in Cagayan videotaped the sexual abuse of the child several times and threatened to post them on social media that would instill fear, intimidate and control the child.

"It is able to protect child abusers and allow victims to suffer and intimidate government officials"

Israel admits the sexual acts but he claims it was consensual. The victim denies that. The videos used to blackmail her make that a useless defense.

Republic Act 11930 otherwise known as the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Act says in Section 5: “Effect of Consent of the Victim — The consent of the victim is not material or relevant and shall not be available as a defense in the prosecution of the unlawful acts prohibited under this Act.”

He is one of the very few priests ever charged in court in the Philippines with child abuse and not one has ever been convicted or gone to prison. The priests enjoy total impunity, it seems. That is an invitation for them to continue abusing children and more to do so.

Such is the power of the Church as an institution. It is able to protect child abusers and allow victims to suffer and intimidate government officials in allowing out-of-court settlements.

Over a dozen complaints of child sexual abuse against Filipino priests have been filed with prosecutors in recent years but all have been settled privately or dismissed by prosecutors.

There are seven priests serving today in various dioceses that fled child abuse allegations or convictions in the United States and sought refuge here. As Cardinal Antonio Tagle said in two television interviews, including HardTalk on the BBC, the Church considers child abuse an internal matter and deals with it privately. Pope Francis disagrees. Suspects should be turned over to the civil authorities as crimes may have been committed.

Defenders of children applaud the revelation of the truth about this case, painful as it is to the victim and the community. It is only the truth that will alert and warn people that child abusers can be anybody and abuse anytime, anywhere. Everyone must be protective of children.

Priests and bishops, like everyone else, can be sinners and must be held responsible, like everyone else, for crimes against children. There must be no impunity, deference or special protection for them. The law applies equally to all and when the evidence is compelling and convincing, the punishment must follow the law.

Posting child abuse images to blackmail or intimidate victims is one of the worst negative uses of social media as Father Karole Israel allegedly did to his victims. Internet-based platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and TikTok, are used to post vile, degrading and abusive images of children being sexually abused.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the pathways by which images and videos are posted online and the channels by which child sexual abuse images and live-streamed videos of child abuse shows are shared with depraved pedophile criminals around the world who order and pay for them. This is a terrible crime forbidden by RA 11930 passed in July 2022.

"Everyone — parents, citizens, Church, and State — are challenged to behave in a morally correct way"

The challenge for ISPs and their telecom corporation owners is to provide the most powerful artificial intelligence (AI)-driven software to detect and capture and block such evil images and videos from being transmitted. This is mandated by law RA11930.

It may be impossible, as there are so many, to prevent them from being made and posted but not impossible to intercept and capture and block them from reaching the public or the intended abusers and then report them to the authorities so the abusers can be identified and brought to justice.

The social media platforms under Philippine law are called “participative network platform providers” or “social media intermediaries,” and have been used to fix elections, brainwash the public, and transmit evil content, such as child rape videos and images and live-streaming of child abuse. They are mandated by Philippine law (RA11930) to identify and block and remove such content from reaching the public. They do this in Germany, Australia, France and Turkey, the US and other EU countries lest they be held criminally liable for illegal content on their platforms.

They have outsourced this work to contractors that hire call-center workers to train as “content moderators” in the Philippines and elsewhere. These Filipinos have to view a quota of child-abusive images and other hateful and barbaric posts on the platforms and judge whether to keep or delete them. They apparently do not report them to the authorities as the law says they should. What is needed is to install AI-driven detection software.

One content moderator out of thousands can see 1,000 abusive images in one day and decide to delete them but first must report them to the Philippine Internet Crimes against Children Center established in 2019 to investigate the source of the abusive material and hold the people responsible for posting the abusive material accountable. It is already totally overwhelmed by the task, how much more if they received the content found by the content moderation call centers?

Everyone — parents, citizens, Church, and State — are challenged to behave in a morally correct way and respect and follow the Gospel mandate.

Jesus of Nazareth says children are the most important in the world above all others, even bishops. He also says a millstone be tied around the neck of abusers and they be brought to justice (Matthew 18:1-7). That is what we must all strive to do but above all help the victims to heal, recover and be empowered.