Resigned bishop a 'victim of Church politics'

MANILA, Philippines - Resigned Manila auxiliary bishop Teodoro Buhain Jr, whose tenure at the Archdiocese of Manila has been dogged by sexual and financial indiscretions, was a victim himself of Church politics despite serving the Church with utmost honesty and integrity, his lawyer said.

For the past 9 years, the prelate has been trying to clear his name before the Church hierarchy to no avail. Ironically, it was because of his patron, the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, that the allegations still persist.

Buhain's lawyer, Rocherrie Bayot, said Church leaders, including present Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, have refused to give him the chance to present his side. She was reacting to the excerpt, ‘A bishop and multi-million peso donations,’ from the book, Altar of Secrets.

Bayot also sent a letter to Rappler earlier, reiterating that the multi-million peso donations that Radio Veritas received when Buhain was president of the Church-operated radio station had been accounted for by the resigned prelate.

No venue

In an interview Friday, June 14, Bayot said Buhain resigned “with protest” in August 2003, as no venue for an "accurate investigation" of the issues surrounding him was allowed.

She provided copies of an exchange of correspondence between Buhain and Sin, and the former Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Antonio Franco. The exchanges showed how Buhain sought to face the charges leveled against him.

Apart from financial issues, Buhain was also accused of fathering a child with a former employee of Radio Veritas.

“He sought a formal investigation and promised the Nuncio that he could disprove the accusations,” Bayot. However, it was Sin who prevented him from seeking a formal inquiry to spare the Church from any more controversy.

At the time, two Manila auxiliary bishops — Bishop Crisostomo Yalung and Teodoro Bacani — had  been forced to resign in succession after being embroiled in alleged sex scandals. Yalung was only 49 then and Bacani was 63 when they were forced to resign. 

Among Sin's favorites

Buhain resigned following the retirement of Sin on Aug 31, 2003 after the late cardinal reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. Buhain, who was once among the cardinal’s favorites and favored auxiliary bishops, was only 66 then.

Like Yalung, Buhain, now 75, was also hounded by sexual and financial issues which prompted the Vatican to exclude him from a list of potential candidates to replace Sin.

“Bishop Buhain accepted with relief the exclusion but made a ‘confidential request’ to the Apostolic Nuncio to inform him of the negative comments against him for his personal improvement to preserve the integrity of the Church and to be able to dispute the malicious and untruthful statements against him,” a case summary provided by Bayot said.

Bayot said Buhain asked the Nuncio to conduct a formal probe of the allegations but Sin convinced the Nuncio not to. “I am sorry that you have to endure all of these. I reiterate my plea—please do not accommodate the imprudent request for an investigation. It will not bring any good for the Church,” Sin told the Nuncio.

Pariah

In her separate letter to Rappler, Bayot said when Sin died (in June 2005), Buhain “continuously knocked on the door of authorities to allow him to explain his side. Unfortunately, he was not given that opportunity. When Cardinal Tagle was installed as Archbishop of Manila, he thought  the Cardinal, being a fellow Caviteño, would understand him, but he has neither touched the issue nor supported his cause."

“Given the proper forum and right opportunity, Bishop Buhain is ready, able and willing to defend himself. Ironically, the Church leadership in the Philippines thought that Bishop Buhain’s quest to clear his name will vilify the constitution of the Catholic Church,” Bayot said.

In her letter, she took exception to the claim that Buhain failed to properly account for the multi-million peso donations to Radio Veritas which were accumulated during a fund-raising activity in 1986.

“The proceeds of the fundraiser were reported to the Board of Trustees of (Radio Veritas Global) along with an audit report prepared by SGV (Sycip, Gorres and Velayo),” her letter said.

She also listed the manner by which the donations, which official reports say amounted to P20 million, but which other sources said were more or less P100 million, have been defrayed.

These points however were already mentioned in the full chapter in "Altar of Secrets." These also included Buhain’s previous statements to the media when the issue cropped up prior to his resignation.

Asked if she had read the entire chapter related to the multi-million donations to Radio Veritas, Bayot said she had not.

She also vowed to provide documents that would controvert the allegations against her client but only provided letters and correspondences on her client’s repeated failed attempts to clear his name before Church authorities.

At the time the book was being written, we sought Buhain’s side but requests for an interview were ignored. We got his post office box number from his trusted confidant who told us it was the only way we could get in touch with him.

In her letter, Bayot reiterated that Buhain “was aware that there were allegations against him of this nature,” but he deferred to Sin’s decision to handle the situation internally.

“Bishop Buhain respected the system of the late Cardinal Sin in handling Church controversies. The issue was handled his (Cardinal Sin’s) way. Unfortunately, the issue grew and Bishop Buhain is now suffering its consequences,” she said.

Banned from saying mass, residing in Metro Manila

What are these consequences?

Supposedly, the original text of the Vatican announcement of Buhain’s early retirement indicated that the Holy See was accepting his resignation due to “inappropriate behavior with a lady and that the said lady was pressured against her will to execute a sworn statement.”

This apparently refers to the woman who allegedly had sexual relations with Buhain. The woman issued a statement that she sired a child, not by Buhain, but through artificial insemination.

Based on the case summary that Bayot provided, the Apostolic Nunciature, in a communiqué to Buhain dated Nov 28, 2003, informed the prelate that the circumstances of his resignation would not be published in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican. It would just indicate that he was a former Auxiliary Bishop of Manila if he set up residence outside of Metro Manila.

Sin’s successor, the former Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, interpreted this retriction on Buhain's choice of residence to also mean he could not say Mass in any Catholic Church in Metro Manila, Bayot said.

At the 50th anniversary of Buhain’s episcopacy as priest on Dec. 21, 2010, he was, in fact, prevented from officiating Mass at the Shrine of Jesus near the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay.

Bayot said Buhain felt the sanctions imposed on him were too punitive, considering that he was not given the chance to disprove the allegations.

So far, she said, Tagle has not acted on his request for a formal probe.

Bayot said Buhain will make an appeal before Rome’s Congregation for Bishops to reconsider his case and is seeking an audience with Pope Francis. - Rappler.com