Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fr. Reuter presents 'other side' of the accused

By Volt Contreras- Inquirer

AS he puts it, American priest James Reuter, one of the country's most revered religious figures, considers "99 percent" of his time as spent for the spiritual uplift of Filipinos.

Yesterday, the beloved Jesuit and prominent communicator of the local Catholic Church showed who was getting the other one percent.

Reuter made quite a surprising appearance at the arraignment in Makati City of four American Marines charged with raping a Filipino woman. He was there, he said, as a "spiritual adviser" of the accused.

The priest said he has been "saying Mass twice a week" for two of the accused Marines who are Catholics—Lance Corporal Dominic Duplantis and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier—at the US Embassy building, where the soldiers have been held since November last year.

The other accused, Lance Corporals Daniel Smith and Keith Silkwood, are Protestants who are attended to by their own pastors, but "I always get to talk to them" on spiritual matters as well, Reuter said.

"They asked for a priest," Reuter recalled in an Inquirer interview.

He said it was Chris Rowen, an embassy official and retired US Marine now married to a Filipino woman, who approached him regarding the soldiers' request.

"They didn't have anything else to do and they wanted something to keep their mind (about). So I've been seeing them twice a week, almost since the time they were brought to the embassy."

And in those series of visits, he said, he has come to "know them more personally."

Outside the embassy, Smith and company would expectedly face the wrath of anti-US protesters or any Filipino citizen outraged by the alleged rape.

'Not at all wild'

They were, after all, accused of taking part in the rape of a 22-year-old Filipino woman in a rented van while going on a joyride at the Subic freeport. Smith allegedly had sex with the complainant while the rest watched and even "cheered" their comrade on.

But Reuter, who was careful not to touch on the merits of the case, gave a different picture of the four GIs.

"They are really clean-cut men, that's why I wanted the press to meet them. If you'd just talk to them, they make a very, very good impression; very soft-spoken, not at all wild," he said.

A few days before the arraignment, Reuter wrote the Inquirer as director of the Catholic Church's National Office of Mass Media encouraging the paper to get an interview with the four accused.

In the letter, he noted that "all the publicity that these men have received" had been about the charges against them, statements from the alleged rape victim, and legal opinions of the lawyers or government officials involved."

Yesterday's court appointment, he said, was media's chance to "balance the picture" by interviewing the suspects even for a brief moment. (The suspects' escorts, however, whisked them quickly in and out of the courtroom, preventing any media interview.)

Personal backgrounds

Reuter also provided brief personal backgrounds on the suspects, the kind of information that has been withheld by their custodian, the US Embassy:

Smith was 19 years old at the time of the incident. He celebrated his 20th birthday three weeks ago.

Duplantis is 21 and was described by Reuter as "a gentle, soft-spoken" African-American.

Silkwood, 22, is "the tallest of the four."

Carpentier, 27, is the platoon leader. His wife and children are based in Okinawa. He has a 7-year-old son and a daughter who has just turned 4.

In the interview, Reuter said he had also been in contact with the soldiers' parents in the United States.

How to keep their chin up

Asked what kind of counsel the Marines have sought from him, he said: "How to stay cheerful, how to keep their chin up, how to smile, in this terrible, stressful situation."

"I try to give the word of God to them, to keep them cheerful, because they are very, very tense and very depressed, really," he added. "And I like them personally, that's one reason why I'm here."

Whomever God sends me

As someone who had endeared himself to Filipinos, why was he that willing to get involved in an emotionally charged case seen as a potential test of Philippine-US relations?

"Because I'm a priest, for heaven's sakes," he smiled. "I deal with Filipinos 99 percent of the time. Now I'm asked by an American. Am I going to say no?"

"I'm always praying to be worthy of the people who come to me, whom God sends to me."

No comments: