Sex Scandal Spurs Filipinos to Question Celibacy Vows

Taipei Times [Philippines]
June 15, 2003

A sexual harassment scandal involving a well-loved and highly respected bishop in the Philippines has prompted many in this predominantly Catholic country to question the medieval vow of celibacy among priests.

With the current controversy only the latest in a long string of scandals involving heterosexual and homosexual encounters, Filipinos are now asking: Is it about time for the Church to allow clergymen to get married and indulge in sex?

Analysts warned that more scandals would crop up in the future unless the Catholic Church starts to re-examine "archaic and anachronistic prohibitions" that merely encourage "the cover up of breaches of the vow."

"Breaches of the vow of celibacy are not new," noted political analyst Alex Magno. "Spanish priests, during the colonial period, spread their wild oats throughout the islands."

Magno noted that "colorful rumors about the secret lives of priests" abound in Asia's only predo-minantly Catholic country, with stories of clergymen siring children with women parishioners, hiding secret families in the rectory and having homosexual relations.

While the Church was able to sweep such allegations of "forbidden liaisons" under the rug in the past, Magno said people have become more vigilant.

In November, another prominent bishop, Crisostomo Yalung of the Diocese of Antipolo, was forced to resign and left for the US after his illicit affair with a young woman, which resulted in two children, was exposed by a parishioner.

"Lately, it has become fashionable to police the penises of priests," Magno said. "It is a fashion driven by the new sensitivity of politically correct groups to protect the vulnerable -- women and children -- from predators violating their own vow of chastity."

It was the moral and material support of such groups that prompted a 34-year-old former secretary of embattled Bishop Teodoro Bacani to file a sexual harassment complaint against him before the Papal Nuncio in Manila earlier this month.

The secretary alleged that the 63-year-old bishop had "hugged and caressed" her sometime in March inside his temporary office in Manila's suburban city of Quezon.

Bacani, a priest-activist during the dictatorship of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, was so well-loved by his flock and highly respected among his peers that many were shocked and hurt by the accusations.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a devout Catholic, has appealed for sobriety and fairness, and at the same time urged the public to stop "feasting" on the scandal and avoid prejudgment.

"Let us not dwell on speculations and rumors," she said. "The least we can do is to pray and hope that this crisis be over soon."

Even detained ousted president Joseph Estrada, often criticized by the Catholic Church for his vices, expressed disbelief over the charges against Bacani.

"It's impossible that he's capable of doing that," he said. "He's one of the best bishops I'd ever met, very convincing, very outspoken."

Bishops and priests of the Archdiocese of Manila, to which Bacani belongs, held an emergency meeting shortly after the controversy broke out in the media. They threw their support behind their beleaguered colleague.

But analysts stressed that the church must go beyond sympathizing with the fate of Bacani and start to "reflect on some of its domestic policies and practices and determine" whether these are relevant today.

"Sex is as natural as God intended it to be," said Lito Banayo, a former political adviser of Estrada. "And surely to impose abstinence upon it defies human nature itself."

"I have always believed priestly celibacy just doesn't hold water or logic," added Teodoro Benigno, a veteran journalist and former government official. "Men are men. And if they succumb to temptation, it's not because they are bad."

Monsignor Nico Bautista, an outspoken priest, said Bacani was a victim of historical error "because compulsory celibacy is an error, it's a departure from the mind and heart of Christ."

Bautista cited a passage in the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus said that celibacy was optional.

"Let those who can take it, take it," he said. "Those who can't, don't."

Bautista said that unless the Church squarely confronts the issue of celibacy, more priests would fall into the same predicament.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.