Suspended Cebu priest to unwed mother: Stupid, Shameful
CEBU CITY, Philippines—A Redemptorist priest who berated a 17-year-old unwed mother at her child’s baptismal ceremony has been prohibited from celebrating Mass and other sacraments in public, pending an investigation.
The 59-year-old priest, Fr. Romeo Obach, faces possible sanctions after his scathing condemnation of the teenaged mother in church on Sunday ignited a social media firestorm. The Philippines is a mainly Catholic nation.
Obach, belonging to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris – C.Ss.R.), was advised for the time being to spend more time in prayer and reflection after a video of his “cruel” words to the mother went viral on Facebook.
Fr. Alfonso Suico Jr., spokesman of the Redemptorist community in Cebu, said their rector, Fr. Adan McMahon, ordered Obach to refrain from administering the sacraments.
An internal investigation is underway but Suico did not give a specific time frame.
Obach on Tuesay issued a “heartfelt apology” in a letter to the mother for his “rude attitude.”
Priest begs forgiveness
“I deeply regret that I have done this,” Obach said in his letter. “I realized only later how cruel my ways (were) to educate and impart lessons. I am deeply sorry to the mother of the child, her relatives, the sponsors and the witnesses of the incident.”
“I am sorry to the … media listeners and viewers for the mistake I personally admit. I am deeply sorry and I humbly ask your forgiveness,” he added.
Obach’s letter was delivered by another priest to the mother and her family in Mandaue City in Cebu on Tuesday.
In the video posted on Facebook on Sunday, the priest scolded Cathy (not her real name) for being immoral.
He advised the guests during the ceremony at the Sacred Heart Chaplaincy in Barangay (village) Jagobiao in Mandaue not to follow the mother’s example.
“How shameful,” Obach said in Cebuano. “You come here to have your child baptized without a husband. You slept with a man who is not your husband. Are you not ashamed? Do you hear me, girl? This child has no sin. But any woman and man who sleep together if they are not married dwell in sin.”
“You are stupid. I hope someone would help so your child won’t become like you who doesn’t follow the teachings of Jesus.”
Caught on video
Turning to her relatives and friends, the priest asked: “Is she being a good Christian … will you spread your legs for a man you barely know?”
The video was taken by Cathy’s 12-year-old sister and uploaded by their grandmother on a Facebook account to express rage.
“If I had known that my daughter would suffer such humiliation I would not have let her push through with having her son baptized,” the grandmother said in her Facebook post.
Suico said the members of the Redemptorist community are deeply saddened by the incident.
Hurt and anger
“As a religious community, we do not condone such an unacceptable act as it is contrary to the charism and mission for which our congregation was founded,” Suico said.
Suico said the Redemptorist community would reach out to the aggrieved family to address the matter.
“We respect their situation at the moment and sympathize with their hurt and anger over this matter. An internal investigation is underway,” he said.
“Rest assured that appropriate sanctions on the part of the involved will be applied once the investigation is complete so that justice may prevail.”
Suico said the incident was a wake-up call for all priests not to act like tyrants but to imitate Jesus.
“This serves as a reminder to us in the religious life and the clergy of our role as pastors: that we are called to serve and not to be served and to offer our lives for all,” he said.
The mother of the unwed mother was the one who uploaded the video on Sunday evening, and since then, it had gone viral on social networking sites, especially on Facebook. For now, it has 33,538 shares.
The teenaged mother said in a dyLA radio interview before the apology came out that she could not forgive the priest.
“I can’t forgive him yet because the things he uttered against me were still fresh in my mind—the shameful words like ‘You slept with a man who is not your husband’ and ‘you’re stupid,’” the young mother said.
She said she was traumatized and could not sleep well at night, adding it had affected her psychologically.
Obach refused to face the media. A staff member from the Redemptorist congregation said the priest was hurting.
The priest also apologized to the public and the netizens for his behavior.
In a statement, the Redemptorist community said it was “deeply saddened” by the incident.
“We sincerely feel for the family and to them we extend our heartfelt apology,” Suico said in a statement posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website.
“Rest assured that appropriate sanctions on the part of the involved will be applied once the investigation is complete so that justice may prevail,” Suico said.
He added that the Redemptorist community intended to reach out to the aggrieved family at the right time. “We sympathize with their hurt and anger over this matter,” he said.
‘He is also human’
According to Suico, the Redemptorist community has always upheld the rights of the poor and the disenfranchised since the first missionaries arrived in Cebu in 1906.
“It is but unfortunate that the incident involving Fr. Obach occurred as he has been a good missionary for many years. He has served in many capacities and various places heeding the challenges of the congregation, yet he is also human and prone to lapse of judgment and imprudence,” Suico said.
“We appeal for calm and sobriety from everyone even as we try to assess both the outcome of the investigation of our confrere and at the same time reach out to the family,” he said.
Follow the Pope
“This priest is a hypocrite! You are not preaching the gospel of Christ!” one comment on YouTube read.
“Hey priest, you should follow the example of your pope,” another read, referring to the less judgmental attitude of Pope Francis.
Obach’s outburst took place a day after the head of the Philippines’ bishops called on the local clergy to listen more and condemn less on issues of abortion, divorce and contraception, in the latest sign of a liberal shift in the powerful institution.
The CBCP president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said a change of tone would be a fitting welcome for the Pope, who is visiting the country next year.
Church leaders exert vast influence in the conservative Philippines, Asia’s Catholic bastion and the only state apart from the Vatican that still outlaws both divorce and terminations.–With a report from AFP
Originally posted: 7:13 pm | Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
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