I'm a Dad, Philippine Priest Says

CNN [Phillipines]
Downloaded July 9, 2003

MANILA, Philippines (AP) --A Roman Catholic priest has admitted to tearful churchgoers that he broke his vow of celibacy by fathering two children and secretly keeping a family, a church leader said Wednesday.

Reports about Father Oscar Ornopia's public confession came at a difficult time for the Philippines' dominant religion because of recent complaints of sexual misconduct against church officials, including a popular bishop.

Before saying Mass early last month in Talamban village, in Cebu city, Ornopia told churchgoers he had fathered two sons with a woman and asked for forgiveness, said Victor Maliluya, president of a church pastoral council who witnessed the emotional event.

"I feel that I'm no longer worthy to say Mass with you now because of the incident that had happened," Maliluya quoted Ornopia as saying. The priest deliberately did not wear a ceremonial sash used for Mass.

"That I have two sons is true, so please forgive me because I have sinned against my vow of celibacy," Ornopia reportedly said.

Maliluya said he approached the altar and announced through a microphone that he forgave the priest.

"I saw many of the churchgoers in tears," Maliluya told The Associated Press by telephone.

Two women, one breaking into tears, stood up and also forgave the priest. Ornopia then donned the ceremonial sash, celebrated Mass and wept at one point, Maliluya said. Churchgoers apparently welcomed Ornopia's gesture of honesty because many later sought him to confess their sins, he said.

Ornopia is being transferred to another church in a regular shuffle unrelated to his admission, but he may not get a new assignment pending an investigation, Maliluya said.

Efforts to reach Ornopia for comment were not immediately successful.

The Philippine Catholic church has been reeling from complaints of sexual misconduct against priests in recent months.

Bishops issued an unprecedented apology last year for what they said were grave cases of sexual misconduct by priests and pledged to take steps to protect the credibility of the church -- an important catalyst of political change in the Philippines.

On Monday, the bishops said they have approved in principle new guidelines to deal with sexual misconduct allegations that call for sanctions for specific acts and establishment of boards of experts to help priests look into complaints.

Until accusations of sexual misconduct appeared in Philippine newspapers last year following church sex scandals in the United States, it has been a taboo to discuss sexual abuse by priests, who are among the most revered figures in society, especially in rural communities.


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