Wenceslao: Erring Priests

By Bong O. Wenceslao
Sun.Star [Philippines]
July 6, 2006

Funny how perceptions change when sordid tales about a person are dug up. Like the priest in the Cebu archdiocese mentioned in earlier reports as having been involved in "inappropriate liaisons" with two altar boys in the States 20 years ago. After I surfed the Net and got his identity, I was shocked. You just can't judge people on mere appearance.

The first time I attended a mass officiated by the priest, and that was years ago, I thought he had charisma. He has this presence in the pulpit and his voice can bring the faithful to rapt attention. There is also creativity in his handling of the ritual, which is probably why he has been increasingly relied upon to handle some major church events.

But that impression was molded from afar, in much the same way that people's appreciation of priests in general are formed by acts that merely skim the surface of their characters: the way they deliver their homilies, their gentle voice, etc. As a result, many parishioners end up defending priests who are accused of misconduct, like rape.

It is indeed unfortunate for the priest that stories about indiscretions that happened in the 1980s have resurfaced now. Two decades is a long time and it is probable that, for the priest, the shame has already been pushed to the subconscious. But then such is the payment of sin; once committed, it sticks on your person and can't be erased by time.

Especially if the sin committed is a crime in the eyes of the law. In that case, the indiscretion will hound you until you account fully for it, meaning, you are convicted and punished. That is another interpretation of the separation of Church and State. A bishop or the Pope may forgive you, but that forgiveness won't translate to acquittal in court.

It is possible this erring priest has atoned for his sins. For one, I haven't heard of any negative talks about him, which could mean that the indiscretion has made him a changed and more mature servant of God. Besides, when the controversy broke out, he reportedly admitted having sex with the boys, though he partly blamed the victims.

If so, then that places him in a better position than his fellow priests whose "inappropriate liaisons" have only been committed recently and who lied through their teeth in public. I find them more difficult to forgive because, by lying, they ended up abusing their victims twice. And isn't lying against the commandments of God?

I don't know if we will know more about the case of the priest I mentioned earlier, considering that it happened very long ago and the vow of secrecy of the Cebu archdiocese. But as a Christian, I agree that the priest can be forgiven---that is, if he has not suffered a relapse. As for the so-called long-arms of the law, I don't know.


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