Roman Catholic Bishop Accused of Sexual Misconduct

San Francisco Chronicle [Manila, Philippines AP]
Downloaded June 8, 2003

One of the Philippines' most popular Roman Catholic bishops apologized and offered to resign Sunday after his secretary accused him of sexual misconduct -- the latest sex scandal to batter the country's dominant religion.

Bishop Teodoro Bacani, who helped lead the campaign against late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s, issued a statement apologizing to priests, followers and his secretary, who alleged in news reports that he had made sexual advances to her.

"I want to let you know that I am deeply sorry for the consequences of any inappropriate expression of affection to my secretary," he said.

Bacani, 63, heads the church's Novaliches diocese in metropolitan Manila and is known for his ready smile and charisma, especially among the poor. He said he has relayed to the papal representative in the Philippines his side of the matter.

"I have put myself in the hands of the church, ready to leave the diocese if necessary for her good, and I am now taking ample time for rest and prayer in solitude," he said.

As he took a leave to rest, Bacani said: "I beg the Lord again for mercy. I also ask pardon of Mother Church, and all of you, and my secretary, who felt hurt."

Rev. Romulo Ranada, Bacani's spokesman, said that while Bacani may have expressed affection inappropriately, there was no malice in his actions and denied the gestures constituted sexual harassment. He said the Vatican, which appoints Philippine bishops to local dioceses, was looking into the allegation.

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.

Bacani was to leave for a three-week U.S. vacation, he said.

Newspapers reported that the secretary, in her mid-30s, recently complained to church officials and a left-wing women's group that Bacani allegedly made sexual advances to her twice, most recently in March when he tried to hug her. She has resigned as his secretary.

Bacani was among the most vocal church leaders who actively opposed Marcos' reign and later helped draft a new constitution. Known for his advocacy of the poor, he is considered an activist in a church considered a bastion of conservatism.

Philippine church officials had no immediate reaction. A church source said Cardinal Jaime Sin, the acknowledged 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.

In July, the Philippines' largest association of Catholic bishops apologized for what it said were grave cases of sexual misconduct by Filipino priests in recent years and said it has drafted guidelines to address various types of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests.


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