Culprits in the Cloister

By Isagani A. Cruz [Philippines]
Dowloaded September 28, 2003

SOME weeks ago, a Catholic cleric convicted of molesting 150 youths during his watch at an American parish was strangled to death by a fellow convict. The killer was outraged by the priest's acts and was waiting to wreak vengeance on him on behalf of his innocent victims.

The Catholic Church had earlier defrocked him and reportedly paid millions of dollars in damages to the boys he had molested, now grown up, who had decided to reveal his sexual abuses. One complaint created a domino effect that led to other accusations his superiors could not ignore. A thorough investigation caused his abject confession and eventual imprisonment and murder.

The Catholic Church in the United States has been rocked by similar scandals, most of which have established priestly shenanigans in the cloister. That's the bad news. The good news is that they have not been hushed up or whitewashed by the church hierarchy to protect its sacrosanct reputation. The priests were not let off by a mere recitation of the Act of Contrition.

The current rash of complaints of sexual harassment has deepened public concern over this offense. Where before they could only suffer in angry silence, many female employees are now boldly speaking up against the sexual abuses and demands of their male superiors. The victims are no longer intimidated by threats of their persecution, demotion or dismissal if they refuse to cooperate.

The present spate of sexual scandals brings to mind the case of Clarence Thomas, now a member of the US Supreme Court since 1991. His nomination to that tribunal sparked one of the most controversial confirmation hearings in the Senate and revealed many ugly details about the objections to his appointment.

After serving for a little over one year as a judge in the federal Court of Appeals, Thomas was appointed by President George Bush Sr. to the Supreme Court. There were many misgivings. His career as a trial lawyer and on the bench was undistinguished. He was clearly a poor substitute for the eminent Justice Thurgood Marshall, the brilliant advocate of Negro rights, who had decided to retire.

But as mediocre as his credentials were, the new appointee's most serious obstacle was the charge of sexual misconduct filed against him by Anita Hill, a law professor who had graduated from Yale. She had served as assistant to Thomas at the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education but suddenly left, confiding to her close friends that she did not like Thomas' behavior.

This reason, soon publicized, made her a reluctant witness at the confirmation hearings of Thomas, whom she accused of sexually harassing her on several occasions when she was his assistant. The details of his molestations titillated the nation and were splashed over the tabloids. Many people believed her, noting that she was no muck-raker or publicity hound. In the end, however, the Senate dismissed her charges and confirmed the President's appointment.

Thomas' confirmation was generally regarded as having been motivated by politics rather than the facts of the case. Hill had nothing to gain by her charges except to prevent an unworthy person from sitting on the highest tribunal. Her reputation is still intact, but the justice's name remains under a cloud.

Going back to the clergy, there was a report that hogged the headlines a few years ago of a priest from Mandaluyong, if I remember correctly, who was accused of some sexual indiscretion that, if true, should have caused his dismissal. The news was front-page material for some time and then suddenly disappeared and was soon forgotten. Some say Father Lothario was deported to another remote parish, where he is probably gallivanting again.

By contrast, it is reported that 34 priests have been suspended for alleged conduct unbecoming a priest. Earlier, a priest found to be maintaining his lover and their child confessed his sin and left his vocation.

But what about Bishop Teodoro Bacani, who suddenly left sometime ago in the wake of charges of sexual molestation filed against him by his secretary? In his departure message, he pleaded for understanding as if he was asking for forgiveness-that was the impression many people got. Then, as suddenly as he had left, he quietly came back and has reportedly resumed his priestly duties.

Many of the Catholic faithful expressed satisfaction over his return, which they saw as an affirmation of their trust in him as a holy man. They also regarded it as his implied exoneration from the accusation that he had taken liberties with his accuser, who had repulsed them and eventually resigned to protect her honor.

So what has happened to her formal complaint that was supposed to have been elevated to the Vatican for investigation and decision? There has been no news about whatever action has been taken by the Holy See on this serious matter, which affects the integrity of the Catholic Church in this only Christian country in Asia.

All I have heard so far are rumors and conjectures, not a clear decision on the charges against Bishop Bacani. He is entitled to the presumption of innocence, particularly because he is a man of the cloth, but that presumption is only disputable and may be rebutted by evidence to the contrary, if there is any.


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