BISHOP BACANI OFF TO U.S.; SEX SCANDAL PROBE ON
Many churchgoers were shocked, gawking at sidewalk newspaper displays with prominent headlines. Some openly cried when Bacani’s letter was read in a church.
"They were shocked, everybody was shocked and I myself cried. Many of us were hurt, but that was our gut reaction, nothing has been proven," Ranada told The Associated Press by telephone.
But there was no mention of the scandal in yesterday’s homilies. "I don’t think there was a need for it to be mentioned," one priest told The STAR after celebrating a Mass.
One churchgoer said the "altar is not really the place where it should be settled."
"If it should be discussed, there should be a special meeting of that among parishioners," he said. "If I heard about that in the homily I would be distracted because I went to Mass for a more important reason."
Ranada raised the possibility that the scandal was being played up by rival religious groups that were trying to discredit the Catholic church.
"The clergy and the lay leaders are fully behind the bishop," he added.
Bacani’s deputy, Monsignor Gerardo Tapiador, said while priests at the Novaliches diocese were bothered by the accusation, the "entire clergy is solidly behind the bishop. We stand behind him."
Ranada also denied reported attempts by Church officials to keep a lid on the scandal.
Marites Vitug, editor-in-chief of the fortnightly magazine Newsbreak, which broke the story last week, earlier told The STAR in a telephone interview that copies of the magazine were "bought by the hundreds by priests."
Church personnel waited at their Mandaluyong City office to buy copies before they hit the newsstands, she said.
"I don’t think we can buy all of the magazines. There is no such effort. We cannot keep on buying. The magazine can just print more," Ranada said.
Newsbreak reported that the secretary, in her mid-30s, recently complained to church officials and a left-wing women’s group, Gabriela.
Bacani allegedly made sexual advances to her twice, most recently in March when he tried to hug her. She resigned shortly.
Bacani, 63, is known for his ready smile and charisma, especially among the poor.
He was among the most vocal Church leaders who actively opposed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s and later helped draft the 1987 Constitution.
Known for his advocacy of the poor, he is considered an activist in a Church considered a bastion of conservatism.
Bacani has gained national attention as a critic of public utilities and of government policies, using a regular newspaper column as his pulpit.
He has also served as a spiritual adviser of the politically influential El Shaddai, a Catholic religious group with thousands of adherents in the Philippines and which reportedly raises huge amounts of money from contributions.
El Shaddai said it would determine the facts and hear Bacani’s side before making any comment on the scandal.
Bacani, along with El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, is also the spiritual adviser of detained former President Joseph Estrada, Mrs. Arroyo’s political nemesis who is now facing a corruption trial.
Bacani’s association with Estrada did not sit well with the Church leadership, which was critical of Estrada because of his image as a womanizing drunk who gambled a lot.
Philippine Church officials had no immediate reaction. A Church source said Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Church leader in the country, was deeply saddened.
Church officials here traditionally have avoided publicly discussing sexual offenses by priests, who usually are among the most revered and influential community leaders in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation, particularly in rural areas.
In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church worldwide has been hit with sexual scandals in countries including Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Poland and the United States.
Early last year, the Catholic Church in the United States was rocked by scandals involving American clergymen who allegedly sexually abused boys serving in church.
Aghast by the gravity of the scandals, Pope John Paul II strongly denounced sexual misconduct by clergymen as a "crime." Later, the spotlight on priests exposed similar allegations involving Filipino clergymen in the Philippines.
In July, the CBCP apologized for what it said were grave cases of sexual misconduct by Filipino priests in recent years and vowed to prosecute and defrock offending clergymen.
It added it has drafted guidelines to address various types of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests.
The Catholic church claims more than 80 percent of Filipinos as followers and church leaders often criticize public policies on matters like population control, human rights and national security. — With Nikko Dizon, AP, AFP
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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