SAN FERNANDO CITY, Pampanga – The Catholic Church of Pampanga may take a valuable lesson from the Reproductive Health bill. Men of the cloth here have been siring kids, with some keeping affairs.
The Church of Pampanga has been grappling with problems concerning its randy priests, and Church officials have been trying to contain a potentially damaging case, which if it drags on, could grow into a scandal.
For the first time, a priest has been hailed to court for having an affair with a married woman, although such extracurricular affairs are not uncommon in Pampanga.
Church officials have suspended the priest, Jeffrey Louie Maghirang, but the complainant, a security manager for a chain of malls, fears that he might just be reassigned to another parish after the scandal has subsided. (He has asked not to be identified to protect the privacy of his 3-year-old child.)
This priest’s illicit affair could lead to a family breakup.
When the complainant first brought the matter to Fr. Maghirang’s superiors last May, he was told that they would conduct their own investigation. He initially talked with Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo David.
The husband confirmed that his wife and Fr. Maghirang were having an affair last April after he spied on his wife’s “chat discussion” with the priest. He put an electronic gadget on the family’s computer to trace the conversation.
But Bishop David told him that Fr. Maghirang had denied the allegation. This prompted him to produce his evidence as well as a text message from Fr. Maghirang to his wife, calling her “Babes.”
In July, Bishop David assured the complainant that “we will take action.” He showed us a text message from Bishop David saying: “Just to reassure you that action is being taken over your complaint. We are currently looking for a replacement.”
But the complainant was not satisfied with the Church’s response.
The complainant also said he received a text message from Fr. Maghirang, with the priest “admitting to the relationship and seeking forgiveness.” He forwarded Fr. Maghirang’s text to Bishop David, “who denied receiving the text,” the complainant said.
We sought comment from Fr. Larry Sarmiento, head of the archdiocese’s conciliation and arbitration committee, and he initially agreed to be interviewed. However, he later begged off, saying the case is already with the court.
We also sought to interview lawyer George Lagronio, the Church-appointed counsel for Fr. Maghirang, but we were told he has not yet reviewed the case.
Frustrated with the Church’s slow action, the complaining husband filed in October an adultery and unjust vexation case against Fr. Maghirang.
He has asked Church officials to defrock the offending priest in exchange for withdrawing the case.
A ticking bomb
The pending case will not be the last.
If the Church mishandles the case by allowing the revelation of salacious details to the public, it could open a Pandora’s box. It will expose the violations of Pampanga priests of their vow of celibacy, with the Pampanga laity looking the other way.
It will also expose the leniency of Church officials toward erring priests and their attempts to cover up their sins.
More fundamentally, it will reveal an inherent flaw in the formation of its clergy, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
The situation in Pampanga is like a ticking time bomb. With dozens of abandoned children sired by priests, it could provide a major financial headache for the Church, if ever a class suit seeking compensation is filed.
Among the 86 dioceses in the country, the bishopric of Pampanga boasts a singular honor: it has the highest incidence of priests engaged in extra-curricular affairs.
Consider this: 5 priests have sought for dispensation—those granted dispensation are freed from their priestly duties and assume the life of an ordinary layman—while 2 have been suspended, which underscores the gravity of the situation.
A retired archbishop said in an interview that more than a dozen clergymen in Pampanga are known to maintain lovers. A former lawmaker from Pampanga, who has extensive contacts with the Church, however said that of the more than 100 priests there, more than half are having affairs.
In 2004, Newsbreak wrote about the twin “demons” facing the Church in Pampanga—fornication and gambling. We wrote that Pampanga priests indulge in sex and maintain families and children—a violation of their priestly vow. With lovers and children to support, they fall prey to the temptation of jueteng.
At that time, we reported that 35 priests were having affairs, with 21 siring children. And they seemed not to practice any form of family planning as some had 2 or more kids.
The situation in Pampanga is best illustrated by resigned Bishop Crisostomo Yalung who kept a long relationship with his lover and sired two kids while stationed in Makati. Yalung studied at the Mother of Good Counsel seminary, Pampanga’s institution that forms future priests, before taking up his theology studies at San Carlos Seminary in Makati.
Another perfect example is Fr. Ed Panlilio who went on to become a one-term Pampanga governor. He is a former director of the Theology department of the Mother of Good Counsel Seminar.
Panlilio, who ran on a platform of moral reform, and considered running for the presidency, won despite the apparent contradiction with his priestly vow and secular life. Panlilio was reported to have at least been involved with 5 women. Aniceto said Panlilio was stripped of his sacerdotal duties for violating the provisions of the Canon Law which prohibit men of the cloth from seeking elective posts.
His suspension, however, did not mean he could violate his priestly vows.
Whenever confronted by the media and his critics with having violated his vow of celibacy, Panlilio evaded giving a definite reply. His alleged affair with a provincial capitol employee hounded his office. Pampanga local media would insinuate there was a conjugal partnership in the capitol.
Adored like gods
In Pampanga, being a priest is a privilege and a social status.
This can be traced to the intense religiosity and strong Catholic faith of the Pampanga laity. Families send their children to the seminary to become priests and if no one in the family wants, they support poor boys by shouldering their tuition.
Kapampangans revere their priests to the point of spoiling them. “They are treated like gods,” a former Pampanga House representative pointed out.
While they hold their priests in high esteem, the Pampanga laity also realizes that their beloved clergymen have their limitations, including weakness of the flesh.
Those who are scandalized by the casual attitude of the laity allowing their priests to go their merry ways have learned to take things in stride.
“It is just how it is,” a member of a Catholic lay group said. “If you do not like what the priest is doing, then the next best option is to hear the sermon and attend a Mass celebrated by another one.”
It does not help that priests observe secrecy and silence when it comes to the erring ways of their colleagues. “They tolerate each other. How can you squeal on your neighbor when you are as guilty,” retired archbishop Oscar Cruz, who was previously assigned to the province, said.
It is no surprise that the last one to know would be San Fernando Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, who supervises all priests based Pampanga.
In our interview 5 years ago, Aniceto said he did not know about the extra-curricular affairs of Fr. Cris Cadiang, a respected priest until, in a TV interview, he admitted siring two kids. Although his face was blurred in the interview, aired on national TV people were able to recognize him. The story revolved on priests maintaining families.
“I was the last one to know,” Aniceto said of Cadiang’s case.
Unlike Panlilio, Cadiang sought dispensation from his priestly vow but Aniceto refused to let him go. He wrote a second letter submitting his irrevocable resignation from the priesthood.
But it appears his dispensation has not been formally approved. Cadiang, like Panlilio, sought political office in the May 2010 polls. He lost the vice mayoralty race in Angeles City.
Interviews with his superiors show that he has remained a priest, although he has opted to get married. A priest who had secured dispensation remains a priest in the eyes of the Church, although he could no longer exercise his priestly duties.
Children of God
Fr. Maghirang case could end up like Cadiang’s, which has remained hanging.
Aniceto told us that 5 priests have asked dispensation from the priesthood for violating their vow of celibacy and maintaining families. But this number pales in comparison with those who have opted to maintain two lives. These priests want to get out of priesthood and concentrate on their families.
Aniceto said “priests in conflict situation” are suspended while they undergo “spiritual discernment.”
He said that while he does not tolerate erring priests, he can only act if there is a complaint. “I am not spying on my priests,” he stressed.
During their spiritual discernment, the erring priest is “strongly advised to seek dispensation.” This is “out of justice to the innocent children,” he acknowledged, who may have to grow up without a father, or even a father figure.
These children are the collateral damage in the Church’s nonchalant attitude towards erring priests.
Aniceto said that as a rule, the Church does not provide support to the children of priests. Doing otherwise would be tantamount to encouraging other priests to do the same, he said.
What the Church can do is to ask the laity to help support the children.
In the case of Bishop Yalung, for instance, his two kids cannot reunite with their father. Yalung’s lover, Christine, has sought financial support which was declined by the Church. Yalung’s whereabouts have been kept secret by the Catholic hierarchy. Yalung has resigned as bishop, and reports we gathered showed he worked in the Vatican library for sometime.
Because many priests get away with their sexual sins, future priests will get the wrong signal. As former Archbishop Cruz pointed out: “They will get the wrong impression it is okay to do it.” – with reports from Purple Romero/Rappler.com
(This report was done as part of a research project together with Sex and Sensibilities.com)
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