detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

: . A Case of Child Abuse in the Archdiocese of Manila, c. 1876-1884

(Chofre y Cia, Clase de Piano, Ateneo Municipal de Manila, 1887)

A few years ago, researchers seeking to place North American and European cases of church-related child abuse within a broader geographical and historical context, chanced upon a reference to a late 19th century letter in the Newberry Library's Philippine collection that helped further their investigations. The letter concerns a “sin of pollution” perpetrated by a priest in the Archdiocese of Manila against an Indian student. During confession, the Indian student admits to engaging in frequent acts of “onanism”, among other adolescent sins, to which the priest responds by touching the Indian student’s “shameful parts.” The priest then subjects the student to more improper caresses, this time in the dormitory building in which they both boarded. The Indian student, perhaps to allay the “great fear” that had “overtaken” him since his first encounter with the priest, feels compelled to tell his story. With limited options, he tells his story to another priest, again during confession. As the student tells his story, however, the other priest orders him to go no further perhaps to prevent his story from being bound by the seal of confidentiality that the sacrament of confession requires. Deeming the incident noteworthy enough to be brought to the attention of the church leaders, the other priest then instructs the student to report to the Archbishop of Manila, presumably in order for action to be taken against the offending priest. The Archbishop’s account of the event, in a letter to the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, Spain, appears below, in both the Spanish original and an English translation.
Mayo 9
Estimado Señor Cardenal Arzobispo de Toledo
Estimado Señor: compareció ante mi un indio diciendo se encontraba actualmente haciendo confesión grat. [gratuito], mas que el confesor le habia indicado no podía pasar adelante si antes no se presentaba ante mi, y hacía cierta manifestación. Preguntado que se le ocurría manifestar contestó que, siendo muchacho y estudiante confesando en cierta ocasión de los, pecados que solía cometer con mucha frequencia, que eran de onanismo, el confesor empezó a tocarle en sus partes vergonzosas; que en aquel momento nada malo se le ocurrió, y solo se le entró un gran temor; que pasa dos dias, como por causa de sus estudios vivía en el mismo edifício en que residia el Sacerdote confesor, este tuvo con el varios pecados de polución.
El nombre del confesor consta dentro del adjunto sobre.
Soy de V. [verosísimo] estimado atento SS y Capitán.

TnPeoro Arzobispo [signature]

Addressee: Reservada al estimado por Cardenal Arzobispo de Toledo

May 9
Most Eminent Lord Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo
Most Eminent Lord: an Indian appeared before me saying that at the moment when he was making confession of his own free will, but the confessor had additionally indicated to him that he would not be able to go forward if he did not first present himself to me and make a certain declaration. Asking what was happening to him such that he would declare himself to me, he replied that being a boy and student, on a certain occasion while he confessed those sins which he was accustomed to commit with great frequency, namely sins of masturbation [onanism], the confessor began to touch him in his shameful parts; that in that moment nothing bad happened to him, only that he was overtaken with a great fear; that [lasted] for days, because of his studies he lived in the same building in which the priest confessor resided, who had in him (committed), let us say, sins of pollution.
The name of the confessor is attested in the enclosed envelope.
I remain to Your Eminence a most attentive [priest?] and Captain.
Apart from what the letter itself discloses, nothing else is known about the event or its outcome. Neither the name of the offending priest nor that of the Indian student let alone that of the boarding school in which the offense took place are known. Even the year in which the incident took place remains a matter of speculation. As for the envelope enclosed with the letter and which contains the name of the offending priest, its whereabouts have yet to be located. An on-site inspection of the letter also raised questions regarding the manner in which it had been catalogued by the Filipino historian Eliodoro G. Robles sometime in 1950s, when the letter was added to the Newberry Library’s manuscript collection. According to Robles’ catalog entry the letter’s addressee was the Archbishop of Toledo, Cebu and that the “confessor” whose name was “attested to” in an enclosed envelope referred to the Indian student. But even a cursory reading of the letter clearly reveals that the “confessor”, a term which the Archbishop uses three times, refers to the offending priest rather than the Indian student. Furthermore as the researcher James S. Evinger points out, there had never been an Archdiocese of Toledo, Cebu in Philippine history and as for the diocese of Cebu, it was headed by a bishop rather than by an archbishop let alone a cardinal during the 1870s. Evenger submits that the letter’s most likely addressee is Juan de la Cruz Ignacio Moreno y Maisanove, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, Spain from 1875 to 1884 and an acquaintance of Pedro Payo y Pinero, the Archbishop of Manila from 1876-1889. The incident thus took place sometime between 1876 and 1884, the period of overlap between the tenures of the two eminences.

Further research is needed to determine the letter’s provenance and the circumstances surrounding its composition. Did the letter ever reach its addressee? If so, how could a letter sent to Toledo, Spain have entered a Philippine manuscript collection in Chicago, Illinois? Were there protocols in place in Spanish colonial Philippines to deal with child sexual abuse by the clergy or was the incident unusual enough to merit the Archbishop’s and the Cardinal of Toledo’s attention? Investigating these questions as well as many others that the letter raises may help us map out the history of sexuality in Spanish colonial Philippines.

Source: Evinger, James S. "...nothing bad happened...": A 19th Century Letter from the Archbishop of Manila to the Cardinal of Toledo, Concerning the Sexual Abuse of an Indian Student. Journal of Religion & Abuse 8.2 (2006): 23- 36.

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