By Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 05:40pm (Mla time) 01/14/2008
A war of nerves looms in Biliran province between the clergy under the Diocese of Naval and a powerful politician. That’s how this corner assessed the upshot of a formal letter read out yesterday in 15 parishes under the diocese. The clergy, headed by Bishop Filomeno Bactol, released the formal statement in response to charges aired by an American ex-missionary.
It maybe recalled that late last month Stephen Greinke accused Bishop Bactol of sexually molesting young boys in Naval. The news appeared in the online edition of ABS-CBN news and within minutes, the Internet was abuzz with, yet again, another case of clerical sexual misconduct.
I thought the news would soon be forgotten after Bishop Bactol made a proper denial and took aim at Greinke’s objectionable conduct in the diocese in the early ‘90s. This was during the time Greinke tried to recruit young boys to join a religious group he set up in Naval. However, my interviews with local parishioners last week told me the issue is more complicated than what is being reported in the media and the Internet.
As a media volunteer for the diocesan shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Calubian town, Leyte, I got invited to attend a meeting of coordinators last week. Preparations are now underway for the visit of St. Therese’s relics in the diocese of Naval come February. Rey Martinez, benefactor and head of the local association that maintains the shrine, initiated the meeting.
The weekend gathering drew together executives of Region 8’s state universities and colleges (SUCs) and local residents active in church activities. I will write about Rey’s good fortune to link up with SUC heads in the region in a separate article because it looks like it’s all part of a divine plan.
In between lulls during the meeting, I sought out local residents to get their reactions about the scandal that smeared not just the clergy but also the Church as an institution. I was stunned to hear that priests in the diocese believe politicians in Naval are behind the attacks against Bishop Bactol. A source pointed to Biliran’s political kingpin, former congressman and former mayor of Naval Gerry Espina, as having “orchestrated” the attacks spewed by Greinke.
If you’re updated about Biliran politics, you must have heard that Gerry Espina lost to Glenn Chong in the May 14 congressional race. Moreover, Espina’s anointed candidate for mayor of Naval, Brigido Caneja, also lost to opposition bet Susan Parilla. She is the widow of Biliran ex-governor Danny Parilla, who was gunned down in Cebu City last year. One recalls that Espina’s name cropped up in the police investigation because the main suspect was tagged as Espina’s bodyguard.
Talks have it that politicians in Naval are angry with the clergy because it has embarked on an initiative to enlighten the people about social issues like political dynasty, graft and corruption and electoral fraud. The Espinas are not named in homilies delivered in masses during the campaign period but people need not be told about the family’s wide political influence. Gerry Espina has three children occupying elective offices in Biliran. His son Rogelio is the incumbent governor. Rogelio’s twin brother Rudy is mayor of Cawayan town. Sister Roslyn is the first councilor of Naval.
The diocese of Naval, according to the source, has strong Basic Ecclessial Communities, which hints that the opinions of the clergy in the area carry much weight.
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After the meeting in Calubian, the group motored to Naval Saturday night to meet Bishop Bactol, but unfortunately he was still in Tacloban City when we arrived in the capital town. We finally met with the bishop over breakfast the following morning. He looked a bit haggard due to the long trip from Tacloban the previous night, but he was happy to listen to updates about preparations for the visit of the saint’s relics.
I have interviewed the bishop a couple of times for the web paper Union of Catholic Asian News, based in Bangkok, and he was quite pleased to see me that morning. He gave me ample time to answer Greinke’s charges but refused to comment on the political angle of the ex-missionary’s renewed attacks.
Bishop Bactol told this corner that a copy of the clergy’s formal statement will be sent to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. I think that since a political angle has cropped up, the CBCP will look into the matter.