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Philippines Cleric Investigated for Child Abuse, Ivory Smuggling

  • Simone Orendain

An elephant walks in Serengeti National Park, August 18, 2012.

An elephant walks in Serengeti National Park, August 18, 2012.

A Catholic priest in the Philippines is under investigation for decades-old allegations of sex abuse, as well as for his ties to ivory smuggling. The investigation follows a story published in National Geographic magazine about how the trade in religious icons made from ivory is fueling the killing of African elephants.

The Archdiocese of Cebu in the central Philippines says the Vatican had been looking into the sexual abuse complaints against Monsignor Cristobal Garcia “long before the [ivory trade] controversy erupted.”

The National Geographic investigation on illegally poached African ivory found it is heavily used to make religious icons, many of which can be found in the Philippines. The story quotes Garcia - who has one the most extensive ivory religious icon collections in the country - giving pointers on how to smuggle the ivory into the Philippines.


Under the 1990 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, ivory is off-limits. The Philippines is a signatory to the convention.

Sixto Comia, a director with the National Bureau of Investigation, says its office in Cebu has prepared a subpoena for Garcia.

"They will question him and maybe they will also visit. They’ll conduct an inspection of the museum or the church," he said.

Comia heads the environment and wildlife protection division. He wants to know just how extensive Garcia’s collection is.

“I have not seen it. I really want to go to Cebu. I’m just waiting for my travel order," he said.

US Sexual abuse allegations

The National Geographic article also revealed Garcia had faced complaints of sexual abuse of an adolescent boy when he was assigned to Los Angeles in the 1980s. Garcia is reported to have left the United States and returned to his home province of Cebu where he was placed in high-ranking positions with the archdiocese.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma put out a statement and briefed local media this week about the allegations against Garcia. His media liaison officer, Monsignor Achilles Dakay said Palma has many other things to attend to and a statement already "is the end of it."

Catholic Church supports ivory ban

In the statement, Palma says the Catholic Church supports the ban on ivory and that the church does not condone ivory smuggling or any other illegal activities.

As for the sexual abuse allegations, in general, Palma’s statement says, the church has stated its regret for the failure to address the problem in a more decisive and effective way.

Calls to the parish where Garcia is assigned were not answered. Reports say the priest is in Manila on sick leave.