Philippine villagers struggle with priest sex abuse shock8:41 PM, April 15, 2019
Philippines:Parishioners of accused American priest say scandal came out of the blue.
People in a central Philippine village, where a 77-year-old American priest allegedly molested young boys, are clinging to their faith to overcome the stigma the abuse scandal has brought.
Residents said news about the abuse, which surfaced last year, was "extremely difficult" for the estimated 1,000 people in the sleepy coastal village of Talustosan to come to terms with.
"We’re all hurt," said 38-year-old Nito Olaguer, a father of four and a former acolyte of accused Father Kenneth Hendricks.
Philippine police, immigration officials and U.S. Homeland Security agents arrested Father Hendricks in the central Philippine province of Biliran on Dec. 5, last year, in connection with the alleged abuse of at least seven children over the past 40 years.
Authorities, however, believe there could be at least 50 unreported cases.
The U.S. District Court of Ohio issued a warrant for the priest’s arrest on Nov. 11 on charges of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country, a crime in the United States.
Arrest warrants for the priest were also issued by a Philippine court on several counts of alleged sex abuse of minors.
"We were all shocked when the scandal broke," said Olaguer, adding that he served Father Hendricks for years and never heard of or experienced any sexual abuse.
Olaguer said he doesn’t blame the victims pressing charges against the priest. "If indeed someone committed a crime, he must be put in prison," he said.
He said many residents felt sorry for the alleged victims but have chosen to remain silent on the issue.
"He’s now in prison. There is nothing we can do about it," he said, adding that despite what happened people in the village still respect their priests.
Olaguer said Father Hendricks ensured many of the village's children went to school through scholarships.
Maybel Sabong, a 19-year-old student, said the priest brought joy to the village. "He always had gifts for us at Christmas and candies for the children," she said.
Natannielle Calvez, a 27-year-old church worker, said he was "devastated" by the turn of events, saying that Father Hendricks "helped us develop our faith."
"But if the allegations are true and he is found guilty, then so be it," he added.
Calvez said the priest would encourage parents to bring their children to church for Mass. "He got small chairs for the children fronting the altar," he said.
He said the priest was also well loved by the elderly.
"They were hurt when he was taken away. Some of their children served in the church and they haven’t heard of anything bad being done to them by the priest," he said.
"He loved our village. He even wanted to be buried here. He has already prepared his burial ground at the back of the church," said Calvez.
Sabong said the victims should have come forward earlier. "If they were abused, they could have reported it at once," she said.
While the villagers are shocked at what has happened to their priest, "life in the village must go on," said Sabong.
"We were healed when he told us not to worry when some villagers were able to call him," she said.
With the American priest gone, the people said they are having a difficult time maintaining church activities.
"We did not have problems when Father Hendricks was here. We would offer anything we had during Masses," said Sabong.
The villagers now have to collect money to pay for the transportation of the new priest assigned to the village because he has to travel every Sunday to celebrate Mass.
Despite what happened to Father Hendricks, Calvez said his Christian faith remains intact. "Prayers heal my pain," he said. "Father Hendricks taught us that prayer heals."
He added: "But the abuse has to stop. Maybe because we are human, we have weaknesses. We are tempted despite how religious we are."
Bishop Rex Ramirez, the new prelate of Naval Diocese, where Father Hendricks served for years, said the people thought they knew the priest well.
"The issue is no longer in our hands. The process is still working toward the trial," the bishop told ucanews.com. Since the trial has yet to start, "it's not yet clear what happened or who was responsible."
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