Woman abused by Pinoy priests pins hope on new Pope
CARSON, California - Growing up, Rita Milla described herself as a loner, with plans to enter the convent and become a nun. But as a 16-year-old parishioner at Saint Philomena Church in Carson, California, she was the center of a clergy sex abuse scandal, eventually dubbed "Snow White and the Seven Priests" in the 1980's.
Seven Filipino priests, led by Father Santiago Tamayo, sexually abused her. She became pregnant and bore the child of one of the priests, Father Valentine Tugade.
Milla went through years of therapy, became a medical assistant, and won a half million dollar settlement in 2007.
She raised her daughter Jackie, which DNA tests confirmed was fathered by Tugade.
She has since married, and now has a son as well as three grandchildren, but painful memories resurfaced when the Los Angeles Archdiocese released documents regarding church abuse.
"I had always thought I had been doing better than I actually was when the documents came. I read them and it kind of set me back and I became depressed again. It brought up a bunch of bad memories," she said.
Documents show letters from church officials, including former Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony and her abusers, discussing ways to cover up the scandal. At one point, she was encouraged to get an abortion.
She gave birth in the Philippines. (Milla's ethnicity is uncertain, contrary to the headline on Balitang America that identified her as Filipino.—ed).
She returned to the US and filed her lawsuit against Tamayo and the other priests.
"It was in the Philippines that I broke free from Father Tamayo and the priests. It was there that I felt I was going to die and I almost did die there. I had a lot of time to think far away from him and realize that nobody else should go through this. That gave me the anger or the strength to come back and denounce them," recalled Milla.
Milla is no longer Catholic, but continues to monitor the Catholic church as a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). With the papal conclave scheduled to begin on Tuesday, she's hoping to see a new pope that can address past and present clergy abuse issues, while preventing future incidents from occurring.
"I'm hoping that the new pope will have the courage to clean house, to actually go after the bishops that have hidden all these priests," she said.
"But if (the next pope) is being voted in by Mahony and all these other cardinals that have problems, their own problems, more than likely it’ll be more of the same," she explained.
Despite being stripped of his public duties, Mahony remains a cardinal in good standing and part of the conclave. He went to Rome despite thousands of petitions urging the Vatican to exclude him from the conclave.
Milla had joined members of SNAP in Rome to protest Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
While she fights for others, she has moved on from her own past. Two of the abusers, Father Angel Cruces and Tamayo both died, with Tamayo publicly apologizing to Milla before his death.
The whereabouts of the other priests, including Tugade, remain unknown.