Bishop Buhain: ‘Church higher-ups denied me due process’

Aries C. Rufo

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Canon Law provides for due process, but Buhain, who was forced to retire over alleged indiscretions, says the ones implementing it may have been forgetful

MANILA, Philippines – For years, he was one of the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church, enjoying the trust and confidence of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.

But with his patron now gone and him forced into premature retirement, Bishop Teodoro Buhain is waging a lonely battle to clear his name. As auxiliary Bishop of Manila, he was hounded by controversies and allegations that cast a shadow over his tenure.

In a #TalkThursday interview with Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa on Thursday, June 20, Buhain said he had been asking Church officials for a chance to air his side on accusations about alleged financial and sexual indiscretions on his part.

Read: A bishop and multi-million-peso donations

Each time, his requests were met with stony silence by current Church superiors. Buhain said that while the Canon law provides for due process for erring priests, it has been denied to him by the Church hierarchy.

“Due process is there in Canon Law. The ones implementing it may have been forgetful or they do not know how to do it,” he said.

The bishop, who was forced to resign in 2003 at the age of 66, stressed that he was actually looking forward to an early retirement.

He said he “felt relief” when he was told by the Papal Nuncio then, Antonio Franco, that he was not among those being considered for one of the bishopric posts when the Archdiocese of Manila was being divided into 5 dioceses.

But it was a retirement that came not on his own terms.

Cardinal Sin

His patron, Cardinal Sin, had asked  Buhain to tender his resignation, to coincide with his own retirement upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Buhain said he was more than willing to resign, but would have wanted to clear the air first and protect his integrity.

Buhain said allegations of financial and sexual indiscretions against him resurfaced during one gathering of priests where one cleric told him, “You would be next.”

This was at the height of the controversy surrounding the premature exit of Antipolo Bishop Crisostomo Yalung in 2002.

In a separate interview, Buhain said he provided an affidavit from the woman with whom he allegedly sired a child, disproving rumors he was the father. He said he also showed documents clearing him of any financial misdemeanor on the multi-million donations to Radio Veritas.

Read: Resigned bishop a ‘victim of Church politics’

Before Sin retired in 2003, the cardinal reminded Buhain that his term was co-terminus with his, signaling that Buhain should also tender his resignation.

Considering that there were unresolved issues involving his reputation, Buhain said he went to the Nuncio for advice. He was told he had 3 options:

  • Resign
  • Ask for a formal investigation
  • Keep quiet

Buhain said he opted to ask for a formal probe, but this was blocked by Sin. In his second meeting with the Nuncio, the options were reduced to two: to resign or seek a formal investigation.

But being an obedient subordinate, Buhain said he followed Sin’s advice to just resign without pressing for a formal probe. Buhain said Sin asked him to “please keep quiet for the good of the Church.”

At that time, the Church had just suffered two black eyes – first, the forced exile of Yalung to the US after it was revealed he sired a child with a confessant; second, the forced resignation of Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani after he was accused of sexual harassment by his secretary.

Verbal instruction

In the years following his resignation, Buhain said he realized he had to clear his name once and for all. This, after he found out that he was meted censures that came with his resignation.

First, he was banned from saying Mass anywhere in Metro Manila or anywhere under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Manila. Second, he was also prevented from living in Metro Manila.

To Buhain, the two sanctions are punitive in nature, when there was no actual investigation on his case.

Buhain said it was former Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales who imposed the ban,  broadly interpreting the conditions set by Rome related to his resignation.  

When he questioned the order after he was prevented from saying Mass in celebration of his golden jubilee as a priest, he was told that it was a verbal order.

He said he had asked the Church officials, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, to conduct a probe. The prelate refused to touch Buhain’s case.

With the way Church officials treated his case, Buhain said he had been prejudged by his colleagues without getting his side. “A cleric is presumed guilty until he proves himself innocent. A clear example is my case.”

‘Legal remedies’ vs writer

In his interview with Ressa, Buhain was asked for his take on the book, Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church, authored by this writer and which contained a chapter on the financial issues surrounding his term at Radio Veritas. 

Buhain insisted his side was not obtained. The author, however, repeatedly did try to get his side. At worst, he said the book was written by the author with “insufficient knowledge of the facts.”

He agreed that the book’s aim to make the Church accountable “is a valid objective,” but the criticism and attacks on the Church and on certain Church officials like him “as a good means or not is a big question mark.”

He pointed out that “when there is an attack, the tendency is to defend yourself.” Such defensive stance, “rather than produce the desired effect, it might have a counter-effect.”

Watch Ressa’s full interview with Buhain below.

In a separate interview after the #TalkThursday show, Buhain told the book author he is “exhausting all legal remedies” and exploring “other alternatives” against the author, saying he finds some passages in the chapter on Radio Veritas sweeping. – 

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