MANILA, Philippines - Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma insisted the Church does not encourage the use of ivory in religious icons.
In a statement sent to reporters, Palma admitted that ivory was one of the materials used in the past, but “these ivory artefacts crafted long before the ban are considered the cultural heritage of the Church, in no way does she encourage the use of ivory for new implements.”
He said the Church’s stand favoring the ban on ivory is consistent with doctrines on “stewardship of creation.”
Palma said he is even a signatory to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ “Free Mali” movement. Mali is the elephant being kept at the Manila Zoo.
Palma's statement is in response to a NatGeo report “Ivory Worship” written by Bryan Christy, which said that the veneration of idols in the country has fuelled the killing of elephants in Africa.
“While it is true that icons are venerated by us because through them we are able to tangibly express our faith in God and our devotion to the saints, in no way does the Church teach that these icons are in fact God Himself or the saints themselves,” Palma said.
The same report also quoted Monsignor Cristobal Garcia of Cebu, who supposedly taught the author of the NatGeo report how to smuggle a Sto. Niño made of ivory out of the country.
The NatGeo report noted that Garcia was dismissed as a priest of St. Dominic’s in Los Angeles, California after being accused by an altar boy of sexual abuse.
“The Church is also aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty. In recent pronouncements, the Church has stated her regret for the failure to address the problem in a more decisive and effective way. Cultural practices have contributed to the misunderstanding of the problem,” Palma said.
He added Garcia’s case was already heard in Rome. “I have also fulfilled the Holy See’s instructions regarding submission of documents and acting upon related consequences.”
He said the Church’s principles should guide them in resolving the issues at hand, noting that a person should be given fair and just hearing.
“The account given by National Geographic Magazine needs to be assessed as to its veracity, considering that the article smacks of bias against religious practices,” he said.