PRIEST FEARS 'COVER-UP' IN BACANI CASE

Manila, June 15, 2003 By Jose Aravilla (Star)  Pope John Paul IIís verdict on the sexual harassment allegations against Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani may never be fully and publicly disclosed, raising fears of a possible "cover-up," an official of the Catholic Church said yesterday.

"We (in the Catholic Church) are suffering from SACS or the Severe Acute Cover-up Syndrome," said Monsignor Nico Bautista, insinuating a comparison to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus.

Bautista, head of the Catholic organization Mass Media Ministry, told The STAR that the Vaticanís decision on the case of former Antipolo Bishop Crisostomo Yalung, who fathered a child with a woman, was never fully disclosed to the public.

It was Papal Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Franco who delivered to the concerned parties the decision of the Pope on the Yalung case, Bautista said.

Yalung, after being stripped of priestly duties, went to the US. Similarly, an apologetic Bacani, 63, flew to the US last Monday after newspaper reports that his 35-year-old secretary had charged him with sexual harassment.

The allegations against the popular Bacani had shaken anew the local Catholic Church.

Bautista, who claimed that he is celibate, said the Catholic Churchís strong tendency to be silent on issues of sexual harassment could spawn future cases akin to Yalung and Bacani.

"The more we talk about these (cases of sexual misbehavior), the less we are out in the cold," he said.

Bautista characterized Bacani as a victim of the Catholic Churchís continued ignorance of the "lopsided" basics of the sexual harassment law.

"Any word, any act you make which could be interpreted as having sexual undertones, which are also deemed disgusting or offensive makes you guilty (of sexual harassment) already," he said.

On Friday, the Papal Nuncio reportedly arrived in the Philippines after a trip to the Vatican which was officially described as a vacation. There was no official statement whether he was carrying a decision by the Pope regarding the Bacani case.

Earlier, sources had told The STAR that Bacani had resigned as bishop of the Novaliches Diocese and that it was only a matter of time before the resignation is made public. Health issues would have been the official reason for Bacaniís resignation, sources said.

Emphasizing that he had received many telephone calls which has caused headaches, Novaliches Diocese acting administrator Monsignor Gerardo Tapiador told The STAR he had not spoken with the Papal Nuncio.

"People are calling me asking about it (decision), and others might think I have my own agenda," Tapiador said.

But both Bautista and Tapiador told The STAR that as a matter of procedure, it would have to be the Papal Nuncio who would relay the Popeís decision.

Bacaniís spokesman, Monsignor Jesus RaŮada, on the other hand, would not take telephone calls yesterday.

On Friday, Tapiador told The STAR the Papal Nuncio is expected to announce the decision "within a few days."

"If the clergy of the diocese are called to a meeting, most likely the Vatican decision will be adversarial to Bishop Bacani and that he is going to be punished," Tapiador said.

"If the Novaliches clergy meets, they need to elect a permanent administrator of the diocese," he said.

"If the Papal decision is not adversarial, only the complainant will be called by the Nuncio because she is the only one concerned," Tapiador said.

Also Friday, Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin has asked the faithful to pray to God for more "good and holy priests" and appealed for "understanding and support" for Filipino priests as the local Catholic Church reels from the latest sex scandal just two months before his retirement.

Channel 2ís TV Patrol reported Friday that an investigation into the allegations against Bacani started April 1 and that about 100 people had been interviewed.

The news report said that a decision from the Vatican is expected to be out as early as Sunday. It said that a gag order has been imposed since last Tuesday.

Bacani was forced to sign a letter of resignation, according to the television report. Until the Pope accepts the resignation of a bishop, it does not take effect.

The same report said that the alleged victim is undergoing psychological therapy and that her boyfriend was connected to the office of Monsignor Soc Villegas. Villegas is the Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and known to be close to Sin.

In a statement dated June 12, Sin called on his fellow clergymen to see "purification and conversion" and for the faithful to "assure your priests that you love them, that you will not abandon them and that you will always pray for them."

Bacani has denied the allegations and issued an open letter that said he was "deeply sorry for the consequences of any inappropriate expression of affection to my secretary."

However, Bacaniís spokesman has denied he is guilty.

Sin said in the statement that June 22 to 29 should be a "week of prayer for the sanctification of priests."

"To my beloved priests, let this period be a moment of purification and conversion," Sin said.

"Let us pray for Bishop Ted Bacani. Let us pray for those who have been hurt by this incident. May the truth and charity that come from God prevail," said Sin, who turns 75 at the end of August, the retirement age for priests.

Sin said the issue "has been stretched beyond proportions" by the media, adding that while it was necessary to seek the truth, "the law of charity must prevail at all times."

President Arroyo had earlier urged the public to stop "feasting" on the issue while church leaders have urged people not to rush to judgment.

The local Catholic Church last year publicly apologized for sexual abuses committed by Filipino priests, but insisted that a majority of clergymen remained faithful to their vows.

The Church also admitted that some 200 priests had been investigated for sexual misconduct over the past 20 years. Some of them were dismissed, while most resigned voluntarily.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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