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Categorized | Politics, Religion

In the Philippines, Wolves Amidst the Sheep?

A conviction over a sex abuse scandal more than 20 years ago continues to hound an American Catholic priest who was ordained in and continues to serve in the Philippines.

[Joseph] Skelton was ordained in the Philippines, with Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak ordaining him without knowing about his conviction.

Here’s my reaction to the sex abuse Catholic priest found in the Philippines: not surprised.

I’m only surprised that our local media hasn’t caught on to the Filipino priests who have been accused of sexual abuse within our borders.

Based on this comprehensive (but almost outdated) 2004 report by the Catholics for Free Choice and Likhaan, no priest accused of sexual abuse in the Philippines seems to have been successfully prosecuted.

Most of them have overcome their cases in different ways: settled out of court, acquitted, or moved to other parishes by their superiors, or have cases pending but are quietly reinstated to pastoral duties.

After acquittal, settlement, or a wait of a year or so, the priests mentioned in the report have mostly been reintegrated into active ministry within the Catholic Church.

Here’s a brief run-down of the priests mentioned in the report, and the results of a morning’s Googling of their names. Assuming the search hits reflect the same people mentioned in the Likhaan report (insert margin of error here), it’s my opinion that the Catholic hierarchy’s actions show a tendency to minister to the wolves at the expense of the sheep.


According to the CFFC/Likhaan Report:

On 1 August 1990, Fr. Agustin Cuenca, OFM, a parish priest assigned to the Our Lady of the Abandoned Church in Sta. Ana, Manila, was accused of sexually molesting two of his teenaged acolytes. The complaint alleged that his accusers, 15 and 16 years old, were abused sexually for a period of two years starting in December 1988 until June 1990 by Cuenca.

A certain Agustin Cuenca OFM is attached priest at St. Anthony Padua Shrine in Sampaloc, Manila. As of 2006, Cuenca was the director of the Franciscan Missionary Union. Claretian Publications lists a Fr. Cuenca as the house bursar of St. Gregory the Great Friary in Quezon City. Here’s a Flickr image of a Fr. Agustin Cuenca blessing a privately-owned icon of St. Anthony.


According to the CFFC/Likhaan Report:

In the city of Dagupan, north of Metro Manila, Fr. Macario Apuya, SVD of the Saint Therese Parish, was accused of two criminal charges, one charge of rape and one of child abuse as defined under R. A. No. 7610.... The case had historical significance since it was the very first time that a priest was being prosecuted for pedophilia in the Philippines.

A priest with Apuya’s name is seen here celebrating the Jubilee Mass for the Divine Word Missionaries. A Macario Apuya is currently serving in Mary Consolatrix Convent in La Union – if it’s the same Apuya who was accused of raping underage girls, is it wise to have him running loose in a cloistered convent?


According to the report’s overview of reported cases of sexual abuse by priests: “Florida officials issued a warrant for the arrest of Fr. Polienato Bernabe, 61, a native of Pangasinan, who had been charged with sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl more than two decades ago in Gulfport, Florida.” Bernabe took shelter in the Philippines and died – avoiding  trial to the end – in 2006.


The overview cites that Fr. Diesta was the subject of a request from a US lawyer regarding an accusation that Diesta had abused him when he was a boy. Another report, issued by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, maintains that “Plaintiff reports that he was sexually abused by Fr. Diesta from approximately 1982-88.”

A certain Fr. Arwyn Diesta is still active in the Parish of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Sorsogon. Other Google search hits turn up a Fr. Arwyn Diesta who said a funeral mass in 2008. A Father Diesta is also mentioned as an English professor. A priest named Arwyn Diesta is seen here celebrating a Mass in Sorsogon in 2006 – the blog entry shows a clear picture of Fr. Diesta.


The overview cites the case of Fr. Apolinario Mejorada, who was accused of sexually abusing altar boys in Cebu between 1995 and 1998. “About a week later, Mejorada’s superiors admitted he was involved in some ‘transgression’ and paid Php 120,000 pesos in settlement.” Where is Mejorada today? All we know is that a certain Apolinario Mejorada is currently a parochial vicar somewhere in San Pedro, Laguna.

The following priests were involved in cases that went public AFTER the CFFC/Likhaan report was issued.


In 2006, Jose Belciña was charged with rape and child abuse – the rape charges were later dropped for lack of evidence, but the child abuse charge was allowed to stand. Belciña laid low for a while – to quote SunStar columnist Bong Wenceslao: “When asked by the authorities on the whereabouts of Fr. Jose Belciña, Msgr. Achilles Dakay answered: I am not his custodian. Reminds me of Cain’s answer when asked about the whereabouts of his brother Abel: Am I my brother’s keeper?”

As of 2008, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has restored Belciña to pastoral duties in Minglanilla, southern Cebu – a move that has stirred up more controversy.


In 2007, Fr. Benedicto Ejares was accused of sexually harassing teenage girls under his charge in a “Life in the Spirit” seminar in Cebu. Despite orders not to publicly say Mass, Ejares did so in a government building in 2008. Ejares has contested a ruling finding probable cause in charging him with child abuse.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.