Police in the Philippines issued five warrants against Father Kenneth Bernard Pius Hendricks on Tuesday on charges of child molestation, adding to charges under U.S. federal statutes that prescribe a maximum of 30 years in prison for Americans who commit sexual assault crimes abroad.
The Philippines is one of the most Catholic countries in the world, serving as home to a population of about 90 million Catholics, or 86 percent of the general population. Its president, Rodrigo Duterte, has repeatedly claimed to have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of an American priest while being a minor and urged Philippine citizens to abandon the church and “kill” bishops.
The new charges against Hendricks surfaced a day before the Vatican began an unprecedented global summit on how to confront sexual abuse of children in the Church.
The Philippine Star reported Tuesday that Hendricks, 77, stands accused of sexually assaulting as many as 50 altar boys who served at his church in Biliran province since he arrived in the country 37 years ago. He has been under police custody in December, first for violating American legal statutes against sexual assault abroad, but has now been formally processed for violating similar Philippine laws.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila was working to process and extradite Kendricks, though the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, where Hendricks is originally from, has stated a willingness to see Kendricks face justice where he allegedly committed his crimes before being transferred into the American legal system.
The harrowing affidavit describing the claims of two underaged brothers who claim to have been Hendricks’ victims accuses Hendricks of routine sexual assault of boys. One victim stated that Kendricks began to sexually abuse him at age 12, forcing him to perform sexual acts on the priest and revealing a trove of child pornography on his computer. That victim’s younger brother testified to being molested as early as age 7 in a similar manner, being allegedly forced to shower and engage in sex acts with Kendricks.
The boy who first revealed the abuse to authorities, the younger brother, is currently 12 years old, and reportedly “convinced his 22-year-old brother, known in the same complaint as CV, and several other former altar boys who are now of legal age to come out and charge the 77-year-old priest,” according to the Philippine police processing the case. The 12-year-old repeatedly met Kendricks at his baptism as an infant.
The affidavits do not reveal the names of the underaged accusers.
Child sex abuse on the part of members of the Catholic clergy has become a prominent topic in the Philippines as President Duterte repeatedly decries these abuses during public events, often events having little to do with the Church. Duterte has given out copies of the book Altar of Secrets, which details instances of child sex abuse by priests, to supporters at presidential rallies or public events. He has stated that he, personally, suffered sexual assault at the hands of an American priest while a young teenager.
“It was a case of fondling—you know what—he did during confession, that’s how we lost our innocence early,” Duterte said of Father Mark Falvey in a 2015 interview. Falvey, who died in the United States in the 1970s, was the target of multiple accusations of child sexual abuse in addition to Duterte’s.
Duterte has urged Filipinos to worship God independent of the church and “kill bishops, those fools are good for nothing” and called the Catholic Church “the most hypocritical institution.”
The Vatican convened over 100 members of the clergy on Thursday for a summit titled ”
Protection of Minors in the Church,” scheduled to last three days. The unprecedented event will reportedly focus on religious education regarding the management of dioceses under the bishops convened.
“The goal is that all of the bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
The Vatican announced the convention following widespread accusations of sexual crimes by priests, particularly in the United States. In one especially large case, a report on priests in Pennsylvania found that over 1,000 children had accused 300 priests serving in that state of sex crimes, and evidence suggested that thousands more had suffered similar abuse. Many of the priests accused died long before the publication of the report, making justice difficult to attain for the victims.