Religious Group Wants No Part in Investigation of Priest

Sun.Star [Philippines]
December 24, 2006

The Catholic group Oasis of Love is pleased that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) 7 will handle the harassment complaint filed by some high school students against a priest.

Oasis of Love organized the Life in the Spirit Seminar (LSS) where some 20 students of the Abellana National School (ANS) accused a priest of harassing them during confession.

The seminar was held last Nov. 14.

"That's good because it's official and we can already end this," said Oasis of Love president Nonito "Dodong" Limchua.

The "silence" of the Oasis and the Cebu Archdiocese prompted the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7 last Friday to turn over its inquiry to the NBI 7 for a formal investigation.

Both the organization and the archdiocese failed to appear during a "friendly dialogue" with the students who were represented by ANS principal Ernesto Jacel last Friday at the DSWD 7 office.

Priest unidentified

Limchua, though, denied snubbing the meeting, saying he sent word that he could not attend because of a previously scheduled activity in Bogo.

He also said that he received the invitation two or three days before the scheduled dialogue, which only left him a little leeway to reschedule his activity.

DSWD 7 Information Officer Jaybee Carillo earlier said they were forced to tap the NBI 7 because the priest remains unidentified. They sought the help of both the archdiocese and the group, but to no avail.

Limchua said that they do not have anything to do with the issue.

"Ang Archdiocese gyud ana because the priests are under their jurisdiction. Kami, wala mi'y labot ana and we don't want to get involved (It should be referred to the archdiocese because the priest is under its jurisdiction. We don't want to get involved)," he told Sun.Star Cebu.

However, there are allegations that Oasis has a list of the priests who were involved in the confession during the LSS.

Limchua said he is not privy to any list. He said that Oasis invites as many as 15 priests to hold confessions but not all those who were invited can come.

In this case, only seven priests came, but Limchua said he does not have the list of who the priests were.

Limchua also said that he was not around during confessions since he is limited to holding a seminar in the morning and the baptism in the evening. Confessions are done in the afternoons.

As for those who were around during confessions, Limchua said it is hard to keep track since there are around 30 to 40 organizers from Oasis and from the Department of Education (DepEd), which is also a co-organizer of the LSS.

Carillo revealed that one of the reasons they wrapped up DSWD 7's inquiry and asked the NBI 7 to conduct a formal investigation is to compel people with "material information" to make a statement.

There were 26 high school students from the ANS who complained about harassment during confession. Four of the students want to file a criminal complaint against the priest.

The priest allegedly tapped their shoulders and waists and some claimed that the priest played with their bra straps.

An assessment from the DSWD 7 also revealed that some students complained that the priest touched some parts of their bodies that their mothers have not even touched.

Despite the controversy, Limchua is against scrapping the LSS in schools.

Mayor Tomas Osmeņa wants extra-curricular activities, like the LSS, stopped as these disrupt classes.

But Limchua invoked a provision in the Constitution.

Article XIV, Section 3.3 of the Constitution states "at the option expressed in writing by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high schools within the regular class hours by instructors designated or approved by the religious authorities of the religion to which the children or wards belong, without additional cost to the government."

Oasis has been organizing the LSS since 1999 for free.(JGA)

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