MANY ARE THE WAYS THAT LEAD PRIESTS UNTO TEMPTATION

Manila, August 12, 2003 By Jose Aravilla (STAR) (Conclusion) EMMEUS, a non-stock non-profit psychological training center often hired by the Roman Catholic Church, says there are ways of knowing a seminarian’s psychology or mental fitness for the "stressful job" ahead.

But in the 30-year experience of Ma. Theresa Nietes, one of the founding partners of the Marikina-based testing center, there is still no perfect way to establish a priest’s sexual orientation.

She said they also provide the training for so-called formators of the church in the seminary.

But even if you screen the seminarians and the formators, there are still some who manage to enter a seminary.

Sins of the church

A bishop or the prior provincial can overturn decisions to kick out a seminarian. Favoritism is one of the sins of the Church, too.

According to the well-placed church insider, a more "liberal" policy has been adopted in some dioceses. As a result, many seminarians who should have been kicked out were ordained.

An advocate of the harsher penalty is Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz. Cruz, the CBCP president from 1995 to 1999, naturally holds some sway.

The bishops, however, agreed to put up something like a complaint or grievance council within every diocese. Its details are still being discussed.

In 1996 a mother of a molested young seminarian wrote a letter directly to the Pope to complain.

"The problem of homosexuality could be very costly for the church. First, they could be using church funds to spend on their fancy. Two, they are opening themselves to blackmail. Three, they may be sued with the church and the latter ending up paying the damages)," says a church insider privy to these troubles for the past 25 years.

The source was around when, as a result of the letter to the Pope in 1996, the Church faced the third and the most scandalous scenario.

A bishop in a diocese outside Metro Manila had sexually abused a seminarian.

Within a few weeks, Nueva Caceres Archbishop Leonardo Legaspi was sent to the diocese as an apostolic visitator — a Pope’s representative acting on specific instructions and with blanket authority — and ordered the bishop out.

Legaspi found the problem was much worse than he thought. Within hours he dismissed the entire seminary faculty and closed down the school itself. The Vatican later appointed a new bishop.

Luckily, no criminal charges were ever filed by the boy’s mother. But the bishop was never fired, only transferred, as what US bishops have done with their gay priests.

Four years ago a confrontation also occurred between several priests and Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin after an Italian nun reported witnessing a sexual act involving a priest from an adjacent building.

The confrontation was an emotional one, between the accused and the priests who helped the nun air her complaint, but ended with nothing resolved. Curiously, the Italian nun was not summoned to the confrontation.

The same priest, who appeared to have never been sanctioned, also got involved in a P20-million corruption case several years ago and a sex scandal recently.

Recently, another corruption case rocked the Church after television host and radio anchor Fr. Larry Faraon was accused of corruption by his officers at the Lord’s Flock Catholic charismatic ministry.

The amount was negligible actually, and Faraon said he was cleared of the charges.

However, his Dominican religious order barred him from all his other media and evangelical works for allegedly ignoring its warning for him to first clear these activities with his superiors.

Faraon, of course, was paid for all his work in the ministries he founded. In the case of the Lord’s Flock ministry, he said he received P15,000 monthly.

The Money Flow

In the case of parish priests, they get to keep the money given to them during ceremonies they perform but not what is donated to the Church.

The Church has its own auditing system. Each archdiocese and diocese has their own auditors while parishes are required to form their own finance committees, to handle church funds.

The Parañaque parish assistant treasurer interviewed by The STAR revealed that he deposited in the bank as much about P200,000 monthly from an average weekly collection of P70,000.

There are parishes, though, that barely have any money to tempt the priest to squander. This includes the Military Ordinate or the diocese of the military and the police chaplains.

But if they are not involved in money they are notorious for something else — keeping girlfriends, or worse, siring children.

Bishop Ramon Arguelles, who has been head of the Military Ordinate for the last eight years and credited for vastly improving the diocese’s image, to some degree admits to problems within his jurisdiction.

But he stressed it was not as bad as what "other priests" may think. The erstwhile bad reputation of the military diocese is best known among priests themselves.

"We fell because we lost our vision," said Arguelles, who insists there are worse dioceses than his. There are currently 110 priests in the police and the military.

From 1978 to 1988 as head of the San Fernando, Pampanga Archdiocese, Archbishop Cruz, known for being a disciplinarian, dismissed seven priests for keeping partners, and in his 12 years in the Lingayen-Dagupan Archdiocese since 1991, he dismissed 12 more.

Arguelles argued that his priests were "assigned to all sorts of places and (thus) they are more open temptation, but majority of those incidents are in the past now," he said.

Arguelles said while there were lots of misbehavior among his priests in the past, there was still enough honesty left in them to admit their sins when confronted.

Repentance, Forgiveness

The church has a correction house in Manila where the erring priests are sent if ever their misdeeds are ever proven. But there are allegations that they could freely do whatever they want because the center is not a prison.

In his three-page letter to Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, Monsignor Nico Bautista — while responding to his third warning for his candid and compromising statements to the media about the misdeeds of the Church — basically let it all out to show his frustration.

He was wondering why he was being threatened of being defrocked when all the other priests who committed serious wrongdoing were punished less seriously.

Bautista ended up enumerating various cases of corruption, promiscuity, siring of children, molestations and pedophilia by fellow priests.

But how do you reform an institution that looks more into forgiving rather than punishing?

"What is happening is that it is the outside world infiltrating and imposing its values on us. When in fact we should be the one influencing the world," says Reyes. "Compromises lead to bigger compromises."

"Our methodologies should really be examined," says Reyes.

Many solutions have been offered to address the demons hounding a priest.

"Reformation has already begun but made more urgent by all these realities we are facing," said Bishop Tagle.

By "made more urgent," the bishop probably meant just this February and last June when the Yalung and Bacani cases only became public, respectively.

There were worse incidents years and years back. Although never publicized.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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