Who is Msgr. Cristobal E. Garcia?
Philippine Daily Inquirer
25 September 2012
MSGR. CRISTOBAL Garcia shows a miniature Sto. Niño made of ivory that is kept in a box in Collegium Societatis Angeli Pacis Immaculate Heart of Mary Refuge in Cansojong, Talisay City, in this photo taken on Sept. 24. LITO TECSON/CEBU DAILY NEWS
Belonging to the Archdiocese of Cebu, he is the head of the Commission on Worship; the rector of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Jesus Nazareno in Cansojong, Talisay; and director of the archdiocese publications, “Bag-ong Lungsuranon” and “Mag-ambahan Kita,” according to the 2008-2009 Catholic Directory of the Philippines.
His high-profile ministry is a far cry from his situation some 20 years ago when he was expelled from the Dominican Order. Garcia then was working in the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
His expulsion reportedly came after a nun told police that an altar boy had been found in his bed in a Los Angeles rectory.
According to a listing from the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles that was reported in the Los Angeles Times, Garcia was accused of “molesting two youths” from 1980 to 1984.
Garcia, in a Dallas Morning News interview at his religious compound, said that he did have sex with two altar boys, but claimed he was the one who was “seduced and raped,” a charge his accusers called absurd. A plaintiff, Paul Corral, said he had obtained a financial settlement.
Garcia said he had been a target because of his family’s wealth. He said the cardinal “gave me clemency” after reviewing a psychological report on him and material from the Dominicans.
According to the same Dallas Morning News article, Garcia was never criminally charged. Before the cases against him could prosper, he left the United States for Cebu, his hometown, where he continued to serve. In 1997, he was given the title of monsignor.
National Geographic‘s new issue exposes the ivory business, which has been hiding in plain sight since a worldwide trade ban was enacted in 1989. And a major player in the magazine’s story is a priest in the Philippines whom I wrote about in 2005 when investigating another global-trafficking phenomenon — the Catholic Church’s movement of sexual abuse suspects across international borders to escape justice.
The priest, Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, is now quoted as explaining how to smuggle ivory into the United States: “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it.” And if an icon won’t fit in a suitcase? Here’s how National Geographic‘s Bryan Christy summarizes Garcia’s advice: “I might get a certificate from the National Museum of the Philippines declaring my image to be antique, or I could get a carver to issue a paper declaring it to be imitation or alter the carving date to before the ivory ban.”
Garcia also made provocative comments when I interviewed him about why he fled the U.S. in 1985. He admitted having sex with altar boys and supplying them with drugs — but said he did it because they threatened to accuse him of abuse. One boy “not only seduced me, he also raped me,” Garcia told me.
My story was part of a Dallas Morning News series called “Runaway Priests: Hiding in Plain Sight.” Reese Dunklin, Brendan Case and I documented more than 200 cases in which Catholic clergymen had gone abroad and stayed in ministry.
Most of our project disappeared from our website during a redesign years ago, so I’m republishing the Garcia story on the continuation of this post. It originally ran on March 16, 2005, under the headline: “Priest accused of rapes finds prominence; Filipino church leaders welcome Garcia despite incidents with altar boys.”
CEBU, Philippines – Here in the cradle of Asia’s lone Catholic
stronghold, the Rev. Cristobal Garcia is one of the most prominent
faces of the church.
He oversees worship practices for an archdiocese of 3 million
believers. He bears the baby Jesus’ image during annual ceremonies
that draw throngs into the streets. He led his cardinal’s advance
team in Rome five years ago when Pope John Paul II declared a
Filipino sainthood candidate to be blessed.
It’s a far cry from his despair of 20 years ago, when the Dominican
religious order expelled him after a nun told police that an altar
boy had been found in his bed in a Los Angeles rectory. The priest
fled to his hometown Cebu Archdiocese – which, despite a warning
from the Dominicans, put him to work anyway, with children, and
persuaded the Vatican to honor him with the title “monsignor.”
Cebu Cardinal Ricardo Vidal also has allowed Monsignor Garcia to
form a monastic religious society, whose young male recruits call
him their “supreme motivator.” The Society of the Angel of Peace is
based in a village outside Cebu, where the priest also oversees a
chapel, a children’s Sunday school program and a squad of altar
“I don’t think they [Filipino Catholic leaders] have the same
standards or concerns we do,” said lawyer Lynne Goodwin, who
defended the Dominicans in a 1988 lawsuit filed by one of Monsignor
Garcia’s former altar boys. “I don’t think there’s any consequence
for bad action.”
Paul Corral, who was the plaintiff in that case and obtained a
financial settlement, said he was stunned to learn of the
monsignor’s high-profile ministry. “I never thought he would
continue that charade,” he said.
Cardinal Vidal is not available for interviews, aides said. He has
not responded to written questions.
Monsignor Garcia, in an interview at his religious compound,
acknowledged having sex with Mr. Corral and another Los Angeles
altar boy when they were in their early teens.
One of them “not only seduced me, he also raped me,” the priest
The boys, he said, obtained sex, cocaine, marijuana and money from
him by threatening to accuse him of abuse.
“Who would believe me?” said Monsignor Garcia, who is in his early
to mid-50s. “What can a foreigner do?”
His accusers call that defense absurd.
Monsignor Garcia questioned whether U.S. bishops’ 2002 “zero
tolerance” policy was an overreaction.
“I wonder if some of it is a face-saving mechanism” or “damage
control,” he said. “In the Third World, the damage is done. Too
bad. Live with it.”
Filipino bishops apologized in 2003, as their U.S. counterparts had
a year earlier, for past secrecy in dealing with sexual misconduct.
They acknowledged that this “created the impression of cover-up”
and “could have enabled abusive behavior to be repeated.”
The Filipinos steered clear of U.S.-style zero tolerance, under
which a single confirmed incident of child abuse leads to permanent
removal from ministry. Their policy is more flexible: “The bishop
will limit the ministry of the individual or even prohibit it, if
warranted. No ministry with minors or unsupervised contact with
them will be allowed.”
Still works with kids
Long before that policy was adopted, the Dominicans’ attorney said,
the Cebu Archdiocese assured her that Monsignor Garcia would not
work with youths.
Yet he began doing so immediately, said a man who worked with him
as a priest in Cebu.
The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared
retaliation, said Monsignor Garcia is nearly untouchable because
his family is one of the richest in the Philippines. The family
owns the country’s second-largest electric utility.
Monsignor Garcia said he has been a target because of his family
wealth. He said the cardinal “gave me clemency” after reviewing a
psychological report on him and material from the Dominicans.
Officials of the religious order said their records don’t show why
they did not ask the Vatican to defrock him.
“They washed their hands of him,” said the other former altar boy
with whom Monsignor Garcia admits having had sexual contact. “It’s
as if no one wants to face what happened.”
That man, who is suing the Dominicans and the Los Angeles
Archdiocese, said Monsignor Garcia used to have him act out scenes
from pornographic videos in exchange for drugs. He said he remains
Carla Hass, a spokeswoman for the Dominicans, said the order has
learned in the last year of the priest’s prominence in the
“I can’t overstate how distressing that is to us,” she said. “He’s
a bad actor in every conceivable way.”
Monsignor Garcia was never criminally charged.
Jane Levikow, who served as a nun at his parish in Los Angeles,
said she called police after a priest told her he had found Mr.
Corral in Monsignor Garcia’s bedroom on a Sunday morning in 1985.
Mr. Corral and his parents said they later spoke at length to
police. The parents said officers told them there was nothing they
could do because Monsignor Garcia had left the country, and their
son didn’t want to detail the abuse.
Police said they have no record of the matter.
Ms. Levikow, who is no longer a nun, said she’s not surprised. The
officer she spoke to, she said, seemed eager to protect the
church’s image and promised to “bury” the report.
“It was a different climate then,” Ms. Levikow said.