There’s an important development in the global ivory wars, stemming directly from the great National Geographic article (explored on Dot Earth recently) that focused on the demand created by the market for religious icons carved from elephant tusks. A Catholic priest, whose statements about ways to illicitly ship ivory to the United States were featured in the magazine article, is being investigated by government authorities in the Philippines. Here are the details, as reported by Floyd Whaley out of Manila for The Times:
MANILA — Philippine law enforcement officials said on Wednesday that they were investigating whether a senior priest in the Roman Catholic Church was involved in the smuggling of elephant ivory to feed country’s passion for religious icons.
The investigation was prompted by an article in the October issue of National Geographic magazine that quotes Msgr. Cristóbal Garcia, a senior church official on the central Philippine island of Cebu, as telling an American reporter how to smuggle illegal elephant ivory figurines into the United States. “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it,” he is quoted as saying, to deter inspection.
The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation and the country’s wildlife protection agency are investigating the claims made in the article, government officials said. [Read the rest.]
6:03 p.m. Update
There’s an update on another issue that has dogged Garcia for 20 years:
CEBU CITY, Philippines— Msgr. Cristobal Garcia has been suspended and stripped of his positions in the archdiocese of Cebu on orders of the Vatican while the Holy See investigates accusations he molested altar boys more than 20 years ago in the United States.
Msgr. Achilles Dakay, the archdiocese’s media liaison officer, said Garcia’s suspension came months before the priest was implicated by a National Geographic article in illegal trade of ivory in the Philippines. [Read the rest.]
7:03 p.m. Update
Bryan Christy, the author of the article that triggered the new ivory inquiries in the Philippines, has a post up at National Geographic Web site. Here’s an excerpt:
Earlier today Jose S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu, held a press conference, “Ivory Worship and Msgr. Cris Garcia” (see below), in which he reportedly announced that ivory collector Monsignor Garcia had been suspended and stripped of his position in the archdiocese of Cebu on orders of the Vatican. Palma emphasized that this move was not the result of my investigation, which features Garcia, but rather is the result of Garcia’s sexual abuse of minor boys while serving in Los Angeles, California in the 1980s. The case was exposed by Brooks Egerton of the Dallas Morning News as part of that newspaper’s 2005 series, “Runaway Priests: Hiding in Plain Sight.” My story cited the Dallas Morning News story and reiterated Garcia’s past. [Read the rest.]