My First ‘Persona non Grata’ (at least from a Cardinal)

Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu would like to have me declared ‘persona non grata’ for my story Blood Ivory: Ivory Worship.  The Cardinal suggests I lied about my interest in religious devotion. He is mistaken. I studied this topic and interviewed many people to help me understand the context for venerating holy images regardless of whether they were ivory. This was an honest interest in Filipino culture and is reflected in the story and here. No word yet how Cardinal Vidal would treat Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, the alleged pedophile and ivory aficionado featured in Blood Ivory whom Vidal promoted to Monsignor and made a leader in an archdiocese of 4 million Catholics, knowing Garcia’s past.  If that isn’t a lie of omission I don’t know what is.

Cardinal Vidal and Monsignor Garcia during the  Installation of Archbishop Jose S. Palma, 2011 C. Bryan Christy

“‘Of course I have a lot of things to explain,'” Vidal tells the Cebu paper today regarding Garcia. “‘Even if the Holy See will ask me about it, I have here the documents,’ Vidal said.”  Cardinal Vidal and Archbishop Palma are soon to be on their way to Rome for the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod.  I wonder what the soon-to-be saint would think.

My First Political Cartoon (the Mouse or the Elephant?)

The above cartoon is how the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper reads Blood Ivory: Ivory Worship this weekend even though Blood Ivory clearly states that China dwarfs the Philippines in its impact on the ivory trade (including this call out quote: “By all accounts, China is the world’s greatest villain when it comes to smuggled ivory.”) and exposes how the Chinese government has exploited the CITES system for its gain.

The Cebu paper would apparently prefer its readers go on living in ignorance of any wrongdoing by Catholic leadership no matter the harm to children, elephants, or civil society at home or in Africa (though racist depictions of Chinese are apparently fine).

How different it might be if the Cebu paper recognized that the comparatively small size and high concentration of ivory collectors/carvers/traffickers among Filipino Catholics offered an opportunity for Filipino Catholics at large to correct a problem, and in doing so to lead the world in the protection of the elephant and the improvement of civil society in both Africa and the Philippines.  Think big or think small–that’s the choice.

Is the Church Tossing Out Environmental Opportunity?

With all of the opportunity for good Blood Ivory represents for people in Africa (and the Philippines), not to mention for elephants, it is disconcerting that the archbishop of Cebu believes that my exposing the ivory trade results from anti-church “bias.”

The Archbishop would appear to want things both ways: He wants to take credit for the Vatican’s finally investigating Monsignor Garcia on child sex abuse charges the Church has known about for a quarter century (hilighted in Blood Ivory), while assessing blame on Blood Ivory’s report about Catholics’ role in the global ivory trade.  Both are facts worthy of positive leadership.  The treatment of children has been such a hard-learned lesson for the Church I grew up in, can it be true the Church will miss the same lesson when it comes to animals and the people who protect them?

Monsignor Garcia Stripped of Titles, Suspended

Reports today from Manila that the Vatican has stripped ivory collector Monsignor Cristobal Garcia of his positions in the Archdiocese of Cebu and suspended him while the Vatican investigates accusations he molested altar boys 25 years ago in the United States.  These allegations have been known to the Vatican and the Church establishment in Cebu for nearly a quarter century, not least because of the excellent 2005 reporting of Brooks Egerton of the Dallas Morning News and his “Runaway Priests: Hiding in Plain Sight” series.  But it was at a press conference today in response to Blood Ivory, entitled “Ivory Worship and Monsignor Cris Garcia” that the archbishop announced the Monsignor’s ouster.  Some harsh words were added about me including