An Interview with Father Shay Cullen

Updated: May 30

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: When and why did you decide to be a missionary to the Philippines?


Father Shay: When I graduated from secondary school in Ireland I wanted to see and understand the world beyond Ireland. I was inspired by the virtuous life of my parents and their help for the poor although we were not well off. I too wanted to help people overcome their problems and for them to have a chance as I had of a secure home, love, and education which millions do not have in the world.


Materialism, greed selfishness, and violence cause poverty and oppression. I was aware of the poverty and suffering and hunger of the people in the developing countries and I read as much as I could about it. I joined the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Ireland and was ordained to the Missionary priesthood in1969 and that same year the Columban Missionary society sent me to the Philippines to serve the people. I am here in the Philippines since that time.


Gordon: Approximately what percentage of the Philippines is Catholic and what are some of the primary challenges affecting Catholics in the Philippines?


Father Shay: The Catholics in the Philippines number about 80% of the population but many are Catholic in name only and they are not all active Christians. The challenges facing all persons is to reflect on their lives and community and see and understand themselves and become aware and conscious of themselves as human beings. To be more rational and thinking of humans rather than being emotional and living superficial and meaningless lives centered on materialism and egotistical social media.


The real challenge is for each person to become fully human and each of us to have an informed educated conscience knowing right and wrong, and what is good and bad and using the power and ability of free will to choose the good and act to respect, affirm, love and care for other people, especially those outside our own family.


We must do it without looking for rewards and not how to benefit ourselves. This is the heart of being a Christian and all of us will find happiness, by helping others as Jesus of Nazareth taught us. Each of us must choose to read and study and learn the gospel values and freely and willingly choose and commit ourselves to do what we really truly believe is right, true and good, and reject wrong and evil in all its forms.


Gordon: How can people know and address the injustice and poverty that is causing so much hardship?


Father Shay: The poor and the deprived are victims of social and political injustice, the gospel values that we are taught by Jesus of Nazareth and which should transform our lives and guide us to work and to make society more just and good and equal are not widely respected, believed as the known.


They are not believed or embraced by many Catholics, for them religion is an attending the sacraments but reaching out to the poor and actively working for a just society is not part of practiced Catholicism. Small minorities are committed to the gospel values and work for justice and human rights and helping the poor.


Poverty and social injustice and inequality are caused by several things. This includes a lack of knowledge and awareness of the hardship of so many people. There is a serious lack of genuine concern, love of our neighbor, and those suffering hardship and hunger and oppression. Instead of these virtues and values, there is indifference, apathy, greed, and selfishness. This is what we must try to address an unjust situation people have to believe in the values of the human person and respect their rights and dignity.


If we want to change the injustice and overcome hunger and poverty we need to be unselfish, have a real concern for the suffering of our neighbor and, passionately, and truly believe in justice and equality. This calls for a commitment to act with others to help organize the poor and inspire and encourage them to seek and demand justice and equality and bring about social change for themselves and by themselves. We can address poverty and injustice by non-violent and peaceful persuasion of government to make the cries of the poor there top priority. We can work to make their cry be heard and answered.


Gordon: What did you do to help address the injustice and poverty you witnessed in the Philippines?


Father Shay: When I came to the Philippines I was assigned to Olongapo City on Subic Bay where the US navy had a huge navy base and where the ships and marines would come ashore for “rest and recreation”, in other words sexually abused women and children with impunity approved and supported by the local government. The sex bars and clubs paid taxes and got operating permits and licenses.


I saw the devastating effect of this on the youth and women and children and opposed it and spoke against it. I began the Preda Foundation in 1974 to help the youth who were affected by the broken homes, the debauchery on the streets, and who saw no future for themselves other in the sex industry. HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, family break-up, human trafficking, child prostitution, and thousands of women commercially sexually exploited in debt bondage.


In 1975 I began a small Fair Trade business in handicraft making and trained out-of-school youth to have a trade and we worked with small poor tenant farmers and indigenous people to improve their livelihood by buying mangos at a higher price providing village projects, toilets, and water pumps. Preda processed them into dried mangos and puree for export.


The Preda therapeutic center helped many youths give them schooling and trade and healing and recovery. In 1983 I discovered a child prostitution ring with locals and US Navy men abusing street children they youngest was 9 years old. I exposed it in the media and it caused a strong reaction from the mayor and I was vilified by the local government and was to be deported. The Preda center for youth was to be closed. I won my case and remained. The center continued.


Instead, I called for the closure of and conversion of the US Navy base to an economic zone to give jobs with dignity and to end the sex industry. I formed an anti-base coalition and eventually ten years of campaigning against them and promoting conversion later the US Navy closed the huge base and left the Philippines. It was a victory for peaceful campaigns for social justice. Today the former bases are boomtowns with as many as 80,000 jobs.


I then established a therapeutic home for sexually abused girls and a separate home for young boys rescued from the dangerous filthy jails of Metro Manila. We also have a home for boys in conflict with the law in Cebu saving them from jails. Besides, we hold daily training seminars on preventing child abuse for parents, teachers, and officials.


Gordon: What are the factors contributing to the epidemic of priests being murdered in the Philippines?


Father Shay: None of the assassins have been arrested and there is no clear evidence as to who could be behind the killings of several priests. However, in the past, such killings are linked to the priests taking a stand for human rights and supporting indigenous people in the struggle to prevent mining companies from taking over their ancestral lands. It is likely in two of the recent killings. Another happened when the priest known for his stand on human rights helped get an apolitical prisoner out of jail. It is suspected that the military is behind some of the killings.


Gordon: What impact has Philippine President Duterte had on Catholicism?

Father Shay: He has scared many of the Bishops and priests into silence by threatening to expose priests suspects of clerical child sexual abuse and name their mistresses of priests and bishops and the mothers of their children. Only a few bishops have the courage to speak out against human rights abuse and the killing of more than 37,000 suspects


Gordon: What impact has the sex abuse crisis has on Catholics in the Philippines and what do we need to do as soon as possible to address this scandal?


Father Shay: The child sex abuse revelations in the church in the USA, Europe, and Australia have had some impact as to the awareness of the people to the extent of the child abuse in the church and society. Not many respond to it and remain silent especially about child abuse in the Philippine church. There have been no revelations about clerical abuse of children. Archbishop Cardinal Antonio Tagle says in a TV interview that the church deals with the cases of child sexual abuse privately and internally within the institutional church. None have come to light. There may be covered up, payoffs, and denial. That storm has yet to hit the headlines. However, it will come out one day and there will be big problems of the church leadership. Anyone, clerics included. must be held accountable and reported to the civil authorities and the suspect brought to trial wherein the evidence warrants it. In the Philippines, only one priest that I am aware of that is on trial for human trafficking and child abuse.


Child sexual abuse is widespread in families, on the streets, and in human trafficking. This is due to the indifference of the public, the tolerance and approval of the government, and the silence and inaction of the institutional church to speak out strongly against child exploitation and sex tourism. Sex tourism is damaging the moral values of the Filipinos and leads to child abuse in families. This is the mission of Preda to counter sex tourism and bring the abusers to trial and win convictions for child victims. This 2018 we have already won 13 convictions with most of the perpetrators getting life sentences


Gordon: Why did President Duarte close a Philippine TV station?


Father Shay: The station failed to broadcast all his election ads and angered the President. He says he has nothing to do with the closure. The congress controlled by his followers did not renew the operation permit franchise.


Gordon: Please comment on the murder and slaughter of 37,000 Filipinos suspected of drug possession.


Father Shay: The complicity of so many of the Filipino people whom 70% approve of the president and his killings by not opposing the killing of so many, makes us question how many are ritualistic Catholics but not Christian?


Gordon: Please let our readers know about the 3000 chidden and youths between the ages of 10 and 16 locked in overcrowded jails and what we can do to protest this inhuman action?


Father Shay: The Philippine law says there should be high standard homes and education and therapy programs for the children of the street in conflict with the law and they should be supported by local governments, mayors of cities, and municipalities. The RA 9344 and RA 7610 law protecting children and providing diversion and restorative justice are ignored by the authorities They arrest and lock the children in sub-human conditions in detention centers in an overcrowded cell, without facilities bed, toilets good food, education and all the needs of children are lacking. Many are jailed, no contact with the outside world is allowed, medical care is lacking some as young as ten years to 16 the younger ones are sexually and physically abused in the cells by acts of torture and abuse. (www.preda.org/gallery)


Readers can help start petitions, write letters to Philippine Embassy and the Secretary Edwardo Ano of Local Government and the Interior, demanding the release of the children to their parents, minors charged with a crime, to get released on a recognizance to their parents or released to homes like that of Preda Foundation.


They can visit Preda.org and download articles about it. They can share our articles on the problem with friends, politicians, human rights agencies, and readers and media. Others can promote my book about the death squads and children targeted by them. Ricky and Julie on Amazon. They can donate to “Release the jailed Children fund” to Preda Foundation.


The Philippine law says there should be high standard homes and education and therapy programs for the children of the street in conflict with the law and they should be supported by local governments, mayors of cities, and municipalities. The RA 9344 and RA 7610 law protecting children and providing diversion and restorative justice are ignored by the authorities. They arrest and lock the children in sub-human conditions in detention centers in overcrowded cells, without facilities bed, toilets good food, education and all the needs of children are lacking. Many are jailed, no contact with the outside world is allowed, medical care is lacking some as young as ten years to 16 the younger ones are sexually and physically abused in the cells by acts of torture and abuse. (www.preda.org/gallery)


Readers can help start petitions, write letters to Philippine Embassy and the Secretary Edwardo Ano of Local Government and the Interior, demanding the release of the children to their parents, minors charged with a crime, to get released on a recognizance to their parents or released to homes like that of Preda Foundation.


They can visit Preda.org and download articles about it. They can share our articles on the problem with friends, politicians, human rights agencies, and readers and media. Others can promote my book about the death squads and children targeted by them. Ricky and Julie: A story of human trafficking in the Philippines on Amazon. They can donate to “Release the jailed Children fund” to Preda Foundation through the Missionary Society of St. Columban 1902 N. Calhoun St. Columbans, NE 68056


Gordon: What are the other human rights violations by President Duarte?


Father Shay: Many economic problems in the countryside can be attributed to the government by allowing multinational corporations and local companies to take over indigenous lands and oppress the indigenous people and small farmers. The murder of thousands of suspect drug users and petty pushers killed without having evidence or bringing to court. The overcrowding in jails, without court hearings, it is a death sentence for thousands in the coming months and especially children at grave risk from coronavirus. None of the killers in death squads that have killed more than 37,000 have been brought to justice.


Gordon: Thank you for a thoughtful and insightful Interview and your critical work in the Philippines. Here is a link to more information about and powerful photos from the Preda Foundation. I also appreciate your willingness to serve as an Editorial Advisor which will allow us to feature more of your articles and insights into the many challenges in the Philippines with thousands of our readers globally

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