Ivory smuggling charge against priest reveals abuse investigation

Msgr Cristobal Garcia Credit Roy Lagarde CBCPMedia CNA World Catholic News 9 26 12 Msgr. Cristobal Garcia. | Roy Lagarde/CBCPMedia.

A National Geographic story on ivory smuggling has renewed focus on a prominent Philippines priest accused of sexual abuse in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, an ivory collector, told a National Geographic correspondent he could smuggle ivory into the U.S. by wrapping it in "old, stinky underwear" and pouring ketchup on it.

The smuggling remarks, published in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic, caused a controversy which revealed that Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu suspended the priest in June because of the Vatican's ongoing investigation of the child abuse case against him.

In a Sept. 26 statement from the Cebu archdiocese, Archbishop Palma explained that the abuse investigation began "long before the (ivory trade) controversy erupted."

Prior to his recent suspension, Msgr. Garcia served as chair of the Archdiocese of Cebu's Commission on Worship and as the business manager for the archdiocese's main publication.

The priest was removed from ministry in Los Angeles and expelled from the Dominican order in 1985 after a nun told police that an altar boy had been found in his rectory bed, the Dallas Morning News said in 2005.

After the priest returned to the Philippines, the Archdiocese of Cebu under then-Archbishop Julio Cardinal Rosales may have ignored warnings from the Dominicans. It placed him in ministry and allowed him to work with children.

Msgr. Garcia acknowledged having sexual relations with two young teen altar boys in Los Angeles. He contended that one of them "not only seduced me, he also raped me." The priest said his alleged victims obtained sex, drugs and money from him by threatening to accuse him of abuse.

The priest's accusers rejected his claims.

Archdiocese of Los Angeles spokesman Tod Tamberg told CNA Sep. 26 that the archdiocese has "continually expressed concern" about Msgr. Garcia's remaining in ministry to both the Cebu archdiocese and the Vatican.

The Los Angeles archdiocese "encouraged the Vatican to proceed with the investigation, in which we have fully cooperated," Tamberg said.
Due to Msgr. Garcia's suspension, he cannot say Mass in public or hear confessions. He has also been stripped of his positions in the archdiocese. The priest is now in Manila and reported to appear very sick.

Archbishop Palma said that he has followed the Holy See's instructions about submitting documents and performing actions related to the case.

He said the Catholic Church has stated regret for the failure to address sex abuse "in a more decisive and effective way."

The archbishop added that the Catholic Church supports the ban on the ivory trade.

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