There's Bigger Scandal, Says Activist Priest

By Gerald G. Lacuarta and Romulo Ponte [Philippines]
June 12, 2003

Church of the Poor

MORE than the sex controversies plaguing it, the "biggest scandal" in the Philippine Catholic Church is that it has yet to become a "Church of the Poor," according to an activist priest.

Fr. Joe Dizon, spokesperson of the watchdog group Plunderwatch, said the Church had yet to uphold and protect the welfare of the poor by taking concrete steps to improve the quality of their lives.

"It should direct at least two-thirds of its resources, its personnel and its programs toward the good of the poor," said Dizon, a diocesan priest from Imus, Cavite, and convenor of the Catholic charismatic group Kairos.

"What is the Church doing about widespread poverty, about the youth who cannot go to school because of rising tuition, about the workers who cannot feed their families because of low wages, about the peasants who still do not own the lands they till?" he said.

"The biggest scandal, bigger than these sexual harassment controversies," he said, "is that until now, we are not yet a Church of the Poor."

Dizon also said the sex controversies, such as that involving Bishop Teodoro Bacani, could not be resolved by cover-up but by "honest-to-goodness acceptance and rectification."

"This is a time for purification and serious self-examination," he said.

Fr. Robert Reyes, another activist priest, also called for transparency in the matter.

In a talk Wednesday in Calamba City before a gathering of priests from various dioceses in Mindanao, Reyes said Church authorities should address the present crisis not with the usual tendency of denying sexual offenses.

Quoting a lay friend of his, he said "what hurts the laity is not the sexual offense committed by priests or bishops but their hypocrisy of denying and not admitting their actions."

Reyes also said the scandal involving Bacani should spur the Church to look into the defects of the present priestly formation.

"Our formation does not equip us to become pastors and priests [but] merely prepares us to become intellectuals or knowledgeable in theology," he said.

He described the system as too "transcendental" and "otherworldly," and unmindful of the fact that candidates for priesthood were human and had actual needs like other human beings.

The "running priest" took the occasion to deny the allegation made by certain sectors that he was hiding Bacani's supposed victim of sexual harassment.

He admitted, however, that he had spoken personally with the woman whom he described as calm, composed and not bitterly angry at the bishop.

"It seems that those people helping her are more disturbed than the alleged victim," Reyes added.


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