Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, a controversial and prominent church official well-liked during his assignment in the Archdiocese of Cebu but who faced sexual abuse allegations during his stint in the United States, has died. He was 69.
Garcia died in Manila early Monday morning at 12:30 am while receiving care for “pneumonia, heart failure, and acute kidney failure,” according to a statement issued by his family. They said they are making arrangements to fly his remains to Cebu.
Archdiocese of Cebu spokesperson Msgr. Joseph Tan said Garcia had been suffering health issues in recent years and stayed in Manila so he could be closer to his doctors, with whom he consulted monthly. Tan said Garcia underwent surgery last week.
Garcia once served as the chairperson of the Commission on Worship of the Archdiocese of Cebu. Being a Santo Niño devotee, he played a central role in past Sinulog celebrations. He was known for his collection of religious icons, including that of the Santo Niño. He also founded the Society of Angel of Peace (SAP).
Garcia was suspended and stripped of his position, however, when National Geographic published its story on the use of ivory in religious icons. In the article, published in the magazine’s October 2012 issue, Garcia was quoted to have explained how ivory could be smuggled into the United States. The article also mentioned how Garcia was dismissed after being accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in the mid-1980s while he was serving in Los Angeles.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma suspended Garcia on instructions from the Vatican, then spokesperson Msgr. Achilles Dakay said in a press conference in September 2012. When the controversies broke out, Garcia was reported to be on sick leave, seeking treatment in Manila.
“I hope Msgr Cris gets mercy and closure on his case. I have not heard any official statement or status report about the Vatican’s investigation since the time Archbishop Jose Palma held a press con in 2012 to announce his suspension on orders of the Vatican on a charge of pederasty,” said journalist Eileen Mangubat, who served as editor and publisher of Cebu Daily News, which extensively covered the issues surrounding Garcia.
“Will we ever know the whole picture? Only people in Cebu who knew Msgr. Cris well and worked with him will vouch for his invaluable service to the church.
“I would rather keep his memory in the best of light, as a devotee of the Santo Niño and a powerful, inspiring prayer leader. No one has since filled his shoes,” Mangubat added.
(Banner photo from statement issued by the family)