CHURCH RULES ON PRIESTLY SEX ABUSE OUT

METRO MANILA, NOVEMBER 19,  2003   (STAR) By Jose Aravilla - Following two sex scandals that rocked the Roman Catholic Church, its officials have finally issued guidelines on dealing with sexual misconduct, including defrocking rogue priests on their second offense.

Although the church has had sex scandals in the past, it was not moved to kick out offenders.

A source in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the church’s local policy-making body, said the 18-page "pastoral guidelines on sexual abuses and misconduct by the clergy" has already been distributed to its clergymen.

CBCP president Orlando Quevedo confirmed that such guidelines have been issued.

The guidelines govern action on both heterosexual and homosexual misbehavior.

If a priest fathers a child for the first time, punishment will be based on the circumstances of the offense and on the results of the investigation.

But if the offender sires a second child, he would be removed regardless of the circumstances, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As for homosexual misconduct, the offender will be required to undergo rehabilitation but a second offense will result in defrocking.

The CBCP refused to provide The STAR a copy of the guidelines, saying they were instructed to furnish all bishops with copies who will, in turn, furnish copies to their priests.

The guidelines were an outcome of deliberations by the CBCP’s Council for the Clergy, headed by incoming Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, the source said.

It was approved "in principle" on July 5 although "a few crucial issues remain as matters for further consultation" that have yet to be ironed out. The source did not elaborate.

It was unclear if the guidelines will apply retroactively.

A scandal involving prominent clergyman Bishop Teodoro Bacani erupted in June and shocked the nation after fortnightly newsmagazine Newsbreak reported that he was under investigation for allegedly sexually harassing his secretary, now resigned.

He denied the accusations but acknowledged making "inappropriate expression of affection."

In a letter to his flock, Bacani apologized to "all of you and my secretary who felt hurt." He was later removed as bishop of Quezon City’s Novaliches district.

Bacani helped lead the campaign against late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s and is known for his work among the poor.

Bacani is known for his ready smile and charisma, and he is considered an activist in a church considered a bastion of conservatism.

He has gained national attention as a critic of public utilities and of government policies, using a newspaper column as his bully pulpit.

The scandal came while the Catholic Church was still reeling from the resignation of Antipolo Bishop Crisostomo Yalung, who quit a few months earlier following reports he had sired a child with a married woman.

Early last year, the CBCP vowed to prosecute and defrock offending clerics following scandals involving American clergymen who allegedly sexually abused boys serving in church.

The scandals became so grave they eventually caught the attention of Pope John Paul II, who strongly denounced sexual misconduct by clergymen as a "crime."

In July last year, the CBCP apologized for what it said were grave cases of sexual misconduct by Filipino priests in recent years and added it has drafted guidelines to address various types of sexual abuse and misconduct.

Local church officials traditionally have avoided publicly discussing sexual offenses by priests, who usually are among the most revered and influential community leaders in this predominantly Catholic nation, particularly in rural areas.

The Catholic Church claims more than 80 percent of Filipinos as followers. Church leaders often criticize public policies on matters like population control, human rights and national security.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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