MANILA - The Vatican has suspended a senior priest in the Philippines over allegations he abused children when he was based in the United States three decades ago, a church spokesman said Thursday.
Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, who was in charge of ensuring churches follow Vatican guidelines in the country's second biggest city of Cebu, was suspended in June from all priestly functions, said Monsignor Achilles Dakay.
"He is undergoing preventive suspension because the Vatican is investigating his case in the United States in the early-80s. He had a case of alleged child abuse," said Dakay, spokesman of the archdiocese in the central island of Cebu.
When asked for the specific allegations against Garcia, Dakay said he did not know.
However he said he was aware that Garcia returned to the Philippines in the 1980s after being expelled from the Dominican order in the United States.
On Wednesday Cebu archbishop Jose Palma released a statement saying "the matter of Monsignor Garcia's past... has been elevated to the Holy See".
"The church is also aware of the gravity of the crime of pederasty," said Palma, president of the country's Catholic bishops association, but also without giving specific details of the allegations against Garcia.
Dakay said Philippine church leaders were unaware why the Vatican had suspended Garcia and begun an investigation this year, so long after he was expelled from the United States.
He said the case against Garcia had been "settled" in the United States, although he would not give any details about the settlement.
The admission that Garcia had been suspended came only after media reports this week that he was involved in the illegal trade of African ivory by collecting religious icons made of tusks.
Philippine authorities launched an investigation this week into Garcia and another priest allegedly involved in the trade. They face up to four years in jail if found guilty of illegally possessing ivory.
Garcia has not spoken to the media since the allegations were raised.
In his statement on Wednesday, Palma said the National Geographic article that raised the initial allegations of ivory collecting against Garcia "smacks of bias against religious practices".
The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked in recent years by a series of scandals involving alleged paedophilia by priests worldwide, including Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Germany, France and the United States.
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