Malacanang, June 11, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva, (Star) President Arroyo appealed to the public yesterday to stop "feasting" on the sexual harassment allegations against Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr. and instead let the Vatican finish its investigation into the charges.

"We have heard the stories of both camps so the best we can do now is to wait for the results of the Vatican’s investigation rather than feasting maliciously on this issue," the President said.

"In the meantime, let us give Bishop Bacani a time for peace with his mother, and let us give his accuser the opportunity to substantiate allegations. This is no time for speculations," Mrs. Arroyo added.

Meanwhile, former Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Orlando Quevedo urged Filipinos to "refrain from racing to judgment against any of the parties involved."

He stressed that the Church does not attempt to buy the silence of any aggrieved party, who can go to the press anytime.

Bacani, who is being investigated by the Vatican for charges that he had made sexual advances on a woman employed by his Novaliches, Quezon City diocese, quietly left Manila on Monday after issuing an open letter that said he was "deeply sorry for the consequences of any inappropriate expression of affection to my secretary."

The Church has said he could be defrocked if found guilty.

Sexual harassment is a crime punishable under the country’s laws. Mrs. Arroyo was one of the co-authors of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, which was passed into law when she was still a senator.

The President’s appeals came amid insinuations that the sexual charges against Bacani were politically motivated, as the latter is a known "spiritual adviser" of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Catholic Church leaders were allegedly trying to get back at Estrada for dragging anew Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin in his plunder trial.

Mrs. Arroyo expressed sadness over this latest sex scandal now rocking the Catholic Church but said she believes it would be able to pass this trial.

A deeply religious person, Mrs. Arroyo was supported by the Catholic Church in her assumption into office after the EDSA people power revolt in January 2001. She explained that it was a deliberate move on the part of the government to keep a distance on Bacani’s case.

"The government shall not involve itself in this issue unless there is culpable violation of the law," Mrs. Arroyo pointed out.

In his June 8 statement, Bacani clarified that Newsbreak, in an article written by Aries Rufo, had reported inaccurate information about the incident in question and belied that a protest rally was staged against him by parishioners in Paco, Manila where he had served as parish priest.

"Rufo even wrongly places the alleged incident in my house in Fairview, where I did not start to live till after Easter Sunday, April 20, 2003, while the incident in question was supposed to have happened on March 26," the statement read.

, however, said that its June 23 cover story clearly stated that "the alleged harassment took place in (St. Peter’s church parish priest Fr. Gerardo) Tapiador’s residence, where Bacani temporarily held office after the latter’s installation as Novaliches bishop in January this year."

"The bishop got it wrong," it said.

also stands by its report that a protest rally was indeed staged against Bacani, which it said was gotten from sources in the Catholic Church as well from some media people who covered it.

The militant women’s group Gabriela also clarified yesterday that the former secretary of Bacani who accused him of sexual harassment was not in its custody.

"It was her mother who called up Gabriela during the last week of March and sought our assistance," the group said, adding that it hopes to continue working with the Church on issues concerning women’s rights and welfare.

Meanwhile, the influential Catholic-charismatic group El Shaddai has openly taken the side of its embattled spiritual adviser and is rallying support for him against what it said was an attack on the Church itself.

In a statement issued by the head of the eight-million strong Christian group, Bro. Mike Velarde, said he "firmly believe that Bacani is telling the truth when he said he has done nothing wrong against anyone."

"From our point of view, this unfortunate attack and harassment against Bishop Ted Bacani is also an attack and harassment on the clergy," he added.

Velarde called on the Catholic faithful to come out in support of Bacani and the Catholic clergy through prayers.

A Mass and healing rally will be held on June 14 by the El Shaddai at the AMVEL Business Park in Barangay San Dionisio, Parañaque City, Velarde said. With Sandy Araneta, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Aravilla, Katherine Adraneda, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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