|Philippines||CHURCH LEADERS AT ODDS OVER TRIAL OF AUSTALIAN PAEDOPHILE|
While a commission of the Philippines bishops' conference is supporting calls for the retrial of an Australian man convicted of molesting children, a retrial is opposed by the Columban priest Fr Shay Cullen, who has devoted his life to working with abused women and children, prostitutes, addicts and victims of Aids in Olongapo city in the Philippines, where a huge sex industry grew up around a former US naval base.
The Tablet reports that the accused man is a 70-year-old Australian, Victor Fitzgerald, who is alleged to have molested two young girls in 1994. He was found guilty in May 1996 and sentenced by a regional court in Olongapo city to between eight and 17 years imprisonment, later increased by a higher court to 14-20 years. Fitzgerald appealed, claiming that the two girls, who are now 18, had been put under pressure to testify against him by an association - People's Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance - run by Fr Shay Cullen. The two girls were in PREDA's care during the trial. They are reported to have withdrawn their original testimony.
The call for a retrial was issued by Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Iba, north of Olangapo, after he had talked to the girls, who told him that Fr Cullen and PREDA had forced their testimony. The girls also addressed a meeting of the clergy of Iba in February, which prompted the priests to support a retrial. Bishop Iniguez's appeal for a new trial was also backed by the social action commission of the bishops' conference.
In a letter to the Iba clergy, PREDA said that the Philippine Church's "preferential option for the poor" compelled its leaders to stand up for victims. Bishop Iniguez countered this with the assertion that the Church must "be on the side of everyone, victims and sinners".