- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2014

The United Nations and victims advocates recently have amplified demands for an overhaul of the Vatican’s response to its sex abuse scandal, but Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle has been spearheading change for decades.

The archbishop of Manila, capital of the Philippines, said reports of abuse have even reached his island country, but the cases are being handled under instructions he helped to establish.

“There have been cases submitted to Rome for dispensation,” Cardinal Tagle said of the abuse reports in the Philippines, though he did not know the number. “In the interim, we are actively observing the guidelines we formulated. We are doing our best.”

Cardinal Tagle has been away from Manila for several weeks, having left early this month for a wedding in Chicago before flying to Rome and then to Washington, where he gave the homily Friday at Catholic University’s Baccalaureate Mass.

In an interview with The Washington Times at the university, the archbishop recalled the instructions passed down from Pope John Paul II during a conference of bishops and cardinals on what to do about the growing number of abuse cases being reported.

Diocesan offices around the world were told to draw up guidelines to address local reports. Cardinal Tagle said he already had started to do that as a result of the reports out of the United States in the 1990s, and wanted to help older clergy who could not fully comprehend the crisis.

Today, those guidelines are awaiting final approval by the Vatican, which has become a target for U.N. committees’ criticism over the sex abuse scandal.

Some observers say the criticism is a long overdue, while others warn that the committees have overstepped their bounds by suggesting the church consider changing its canonical laws.

“There are claims some [agencies] are being quite harsh,” Cardinal Tagle said, but offered that the reaction “is just part of the response when abuse happens.”

“I think we all agree the issue of children being abused, especially by clergy, we should not be happy about it and not ignore it,” he said.

His thick, dark hair, which is brushed with gray, belies his relatively young age of 56, making the archbishop one of the younger members of the College of Cardinals. He enrolled at San Jose Major Seminary, studied philosophy at the Athenaeum of Manila University and theology at Loyola School of Theology. He was ordained in 1982, and earned a licentiate in sacred theology in 1987 and a doctorate in theology in 1991, both from Catholic University.

While some rumors were whispered that his name was mentioned to replace Pope Benedict XVI when he stepped down last year, Cardinal Tagle said the man who did become pope has been just as popular among Filipinos.

“Filipinos love the pope, whoever he is,” the cardinal said. “The popes are welcome here.”

But with Pope Francis hailing from Latin America, Cardinal Tagle said, Filipinos have found a common culture and spiritual history in the newest pontiff.

“Spain ruled the Philippines for 300 years,” he said. “The culture, especially the religious culture, is very much Hispanic.”

That means when Filipinos see Francis touch a statue or watch as children flock to him, “they see he’s just like any person in the Philippines. He does that the way we do it. He’s one of us. Pope Francis is someone who uses expressions and gestures we are familiar with, that are not something alien.”

Cardinal Tagle holds several positions on Vatican boards, including the Congregation for Catholic Education, which was in the news last week.

Georgetown University alumnus William Peter Blatty, author of “The Exorcist,” submitted to the congregation a petition seeking to have the university stripped of its “Catholic” and “Jesuit” labels because only a small percentage of the faculty and student body are actually Catholic. The petition had more than 2,000 signatures.

Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said in a letter to Mr. Blatty that, while his agency could not grant the petition’s request for “hierarchic recourse,” the petition itself does “constitute a well-founded complaint.”

Cardinal Tagle said he had only learned of the petition Friday, adding that the congregation observes due process and is “respectful of people who raise complaints, and also the colleges and universities concerned.”

“It does not enjoy condemning persons or institutions left and right,” he said. “The endgame is not to condemn anyone, but build bridges and help institutions listen to individuals who have the problems with them, and respond accurately.”

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