- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

CEBU, Philippines — One of the country’s most popular and charismatic bishops has admitted making “inappropriate” advances toward his female secretary, rocking this predominantly Catholic nation, which had been largely unscathed by church sex scandals.

Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr., 63, told fellow priests and parishioners in a letter that he was “deeply sorry for the consequences of any inappropriate expression of affection to my secretary.”

When the letter was read Sunday in his parish of Novaliches, a suburb of the capital of Manila, some parishioners wept. Others stood dumbfounded outside the church, staring at headlines trumpeting the bishop’s fall from grace.

Monsignor Romulo Ranada, a spokesman for the bishop, said the matter had been brought to the attention of Papal Nuncio, the pope’s representative in Manila, and had been forwarded to the Vatican for full investigation.

“The clergy and the lay leaders are fully behind the bishop,” Monsignor Ranada told reporters.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a devout Catholic who attended Bishop Bacani’s installation of the newly created Diocese of Novaliches earlier this year, said the government would not get involved in the case “unless there is a culpable violation of law.”

“This is a time for sobriety, fairness and prayer,” Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement. “Let us not dwell on speculations or rumors. Let us avoid prejudgment,” she said in a statement.

While the Catholic Church had been hit by scandals in Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Poland and the United States, the Philippines — which is more than 80 percent Catholic — has escaped major embarrassments.

The Bacani case has garnered such attention because of the bishop’s prominence, first in the 1980s when he opposed martial law under strongman Ferdinand Marcos and more recently as an advocate for the poor who battled the forced relocation of squatter families and fought rate increases by public utilities.

He also was a former deputy to Jaime Cardinal Sin, the country’s politically powerful senior church leader, who is about to retire.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines acknowledged in the summer of 2002 that nearly 200 priests had been investigated during the past 20 years for sexual misconduct. It apologized for their behavior and vowed to prosecute wayward priests. But unlike the scandals in the United States, there were few cases here in which victims went public with charges.

The news of Bishop Bacani’s advances were first reported in Newsbreak, a local news magazine, about two weeks ago but did not generate much attention until the bishop’s letter was released Sunday.

According to press reports, the bishop’s 34-year-old unmarried secretary confided to her mother about Bishop Bacani’s unwanted advances, the most recent in March. The mother called Gabriela, a women’s group that takes a tough stand on sexual exploitation. When the news leaked to the press, Bishop Bacani went public.

“She was so depressed that she wouldn’t go to work anymore,” the woman’s mother said, according to a report in the Philippine Inquirer. “Therefore, as a mother, it was my moral obligation to act on her behalf.”

Although he apologized in writing for the “inappropriate expression of affection” toward his secretary, Bishop Bacani said in an interview with a church radio station that his behavior did not constitute sexual harassment.

The bishop left for the United States on Monday to visit family.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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