Buried in Dirt [Philippines]
Downloaded June 10, 2003

EVERYONE has his favorite story about some sex scandal involving members of the clergy. But still every fresh revelation about the sexual dalliances of men (or women) of the cloth never fails to shock and disappoint. And the shock and disappointment get worse when the person involved is not just an ordinary priest assigned to some lonely parish but a bishop who is well-loved by his flock and is highly regarded by his peers and society as a whole. Like Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr. of the new Diocese of Novaliches.

To the Catholic faithful in his diocese and the parishes he has served earlier in his priesthood, Bacani is the ideal pastor, teaching the gospel in a way they can easily understand. To his fellows in the church hierarchy, he is a model and mentor not only because of his facility of expression but also because of his courage in denouncing evil in both society and government. And to the poor and the oppressed, he is a champion who has defended their right and taken up their causes against the powerful and influential.

All that is about to be forgotten now, buried under the dirt of allegations of sexual misconduct that have yet to be proven.

Bacani has been accused by his former secretary of making unwelcome sexual advances on two occasions, the more recent of which was in March this year. Certain individuals and feminist groups, like Gabriela, have pointed out that it is the most difficult thing to do for a woman to admit that she has been violated. It also helped boost the woman's credibility that she made no other demand than the resignation of the bishop, making her decision look like nothing more than a simple quest for redress and investing it with the noble purpose of saving others from being similarly victimized. Then there was Bacani's letter to his constituents where he said he was "deeply sorry for the consequences of any inappropriate expression of affection to my secretary" and his departure for the United States. Put all this in the context of a Catholic Church rocked by sex scandals both here and abroad, including the resignation of Bishop Crisostomo Yalung of Antipolo who had confessed to having sired children with a married woman, and Bacani looks like he is guilty as charged.

On the other hand, Bacani has denied "most strongly the sexual rap" contained in some news accounts. The members of his flock and his staff find the allegations preposterous. And there is one detail in the secretary's story that needs some explaining: between the first and the second incidents of alleged sexual harassment, there is a gap of three years. Meaning Bacani, who was presumably lusting for his secretary, waited three years to pounce on her again. Rather unusual behavior for someone who has been portrayed in some accounts as a serial sex offender.

Was this a simple case of misinterpretation of the bishop's intentions on the part of his accuser? Or is someone deliberately lying? Other than the accused and his accuser, nobody knows for certain at this point. But the process of determining the truth has been set in motion by the Vatican. Until its findings are released it would be best for everyone to reserve judgment, sit back and try to see things in perspective.

Second look

IF one were to give this sorry episode a second look, one would be led to ask what all this is about. What high crime does Bacani stand accused of? He is not charged with rape. The worst act of misconduct being imputed to him is hugging and caressing the woman. Of course, one cannot put a price tag on a woman's honor, but in the hierarchy of sex crimes, sexual harassment just isn't up there with rape. If we go by the penalties set by law, such an act is no worse than stealing an amount not exceeding 50 pesos but more than five pesos.

Far be it from us to trivialize this case. If Bacani is guilty, he should be stripped of his ministry for he has lost his moral ascendancy. But at the same time, it wouldn't hurt if everyone would resist the temptation to blow everything out of proportion.


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