LA Union Bishop Installed to Replace Bishop Bacani

Star [Philippines]
Downloaded June 22, 2003

Manila, June 22, 2003 By Jose Aravilla (Star) In a bid to defuse the crisis spawned by the sexual harassment scandal involving Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr., Pope John Paul II has replaced him indefinitely by installing an "apostolic administrator" in the Diocese of Novaliches to run its daily operations.

Bacani, however, would retain the title of "Ordinary Bishop of Novaliches."

At Malacanang, presidential adviser on ecclesiastical and media affairs Conrado Limcaoco said they "respect the decision of the Vatican" and that "the official word should come from the Papal Nuncio."

In a rare press conference held at the Good Shepherd Archdiocesan Shrine late yesterday afternoon, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Franco announced the immediate appointment of San Fernando, La Union Bishop Antonio Tobias as "Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Novaliches."

Earlier, there were reports that Bacani had resigned as bishop of Novaliches and that a proper opportunity was being awaited for the announcement to be made publicly under the cloak of "health reasons."

Franco held the late afternoon press conference after meeting with the clergy of the Novaliches diocese.

Sources told The STAR that all the 51 priests of the diocese attended the meeting but "nothing" substantial was discussed.

The same source said that the prepared statement read during the press conference was also read during the meeting.

Reading the statement issued by the Apostolic Nunciature, Msgr. Robinson Wijesinghe said the appointment of Tobias "means that the Holy See is still examining the case" of sexual harassment allegations against Bacani and that "he has not been prohibited to celebrate the Holy Mass, administer the Sacraments, or perform other acts proper to priestly and Episcopal ministry."

But in what appeared to be break with diplomacy, Franco's statement named Bacani's accuser as "his former secretary, Miss France Elaine C. Ventura."

On June 9, Bacani hurriedly left for the US "to visit his ailing mother" following the publication in front pages of major local newspapers of reports alleging that Bacani had sexually harassed his then unnamed secretary. Strongly denying the allegations, Bacani had apologized for his "inappropriate" display of affection.

The statement said Tobias would continue to be the Bishop of San Fernando while he assumes the post of Apostolic Administrator of the Novaliches diocese. It said that his position as Apostolic Administrator is on a "temporary' basis but it gives him the power to "assume direct leadership" of the diocese.

"During this period, the diocese will be run by the Apostolic Administrator even when Bishop Bacani returns. The presence of Apostolic Administrator is meant to facilitate better consideration and fair evaluation of all aspects of the situation, without pressure of any kind from any sector, in an atmosphere of serenity and impartiality," the carefully worded statement said.

The Apostolic Nunciature hoped that yesterday's announcement would "ease the tension already created and will discourage damaging speculations and destructive expressions against" Bacani and his accuser.

The statement said that the "dignity, liberty, and rights" of Bacani and his accuser were "of paramount importance and deserve to be properly respected." "They both have freely and willingly entrusted themselves and their case to the Holy See."

Asking for understanding and prayers, the statement said that it was "important to restrain from creating any situation, that could disturb the process of search for justice according to the truth, which has been already initiated with the collaboration of the parties involved."

Fr. James Reuter S.J., director of the National Office of Mass Media and a STAR columnist, said "nothing changed" and that "everything stays the same except that there is a new administrator in Novaliches to provide a situation of serenity."

Bacani's spokesman, Msgr. Jesus Romulo Ranada, declined to comment when pressed by reporters. - With a report from Marichu Villanueva


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