Itís not over, Fr. Ben
The dismissal (for now) of charges against Fr. Benedicto Ejares hasreopened wounds instead of providing a clear path to resolveallegations of sexual misconduct by a priest.
No party is satisfied with the outcome.
Not even the CebuArchdiocese can claim the case has been put to rest or that a dismissalof criminal charges has removed the stigma of how the local churchdragged its feet in dealing with this elusive shepherd and the childrenhe refused to face after the scandal surfaced a year ago.
Towelcome the Cebu City Prosecutorís Office dismissal of the case is tocalmly accept that seven girls, who have nothing personal to gain bymaking public their individual humiliation, have lied or read too muchinto a clergymanís ďfriendlyĒ gesture of caressing their limbs andplaying with their bra straps during the sacrament of confession.
The prosecutor must have expected a world of maturity from public high school students.
Did one girl misinterpret Fr. Ben Ejaresí touch? Two girls? Three? All seven? Not likely.
We can only imagine the violated psyche of these young victims on thecusp of womanhood. They deserve the protection of the law and theministering comfort of the church.
Whatís tragic is that achurch policy of accountability and a procedure to hear out complaintsof sexual misconduct by the clergy was never used. The guidelines werelaid down by Philippine bishops in 2005 but for one reason on anotherwere not applied in the case of Fr. Ben Ejares.
That left parties to rely on the criminal justice system, which inthis case went out of its depth in quoting Scripture to define the roleof priests as the ďalter egoĒ of Jesus Christ.
A priest hasno business laying a hand on a female penitent in the first place. Youdonít need to memorize the Revised Penal Code or Canon law to knowthat. A manís hand stroking a teenage girlís body while sheís baringher soul in a private confession is the act of a predator, not a priest.
No stretch of the imagination or wellspring of charity could bring a parent to view this conduct as anything but revolting.
Fr. Ben Ejares admitted having touched the students, one after theother. He said he acted without malice. If God-like standards are to beapplied, then the prosecutor should have seen a clear case of abuse byan adult who had moral ascendancy over a trusting child. Itís alsoclear that the priest needs professional help.
The ďacts oflasciviousnessĒ documented by the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI) had all the weight of used tissue paper in the hands of theprosecutor. But the girlís testimonies shouldnít end up in thewastebasket.
Itís good to know that advocates of child welfareand social workers havenít given up on the case and are seeking areview by the Dept. of Justice.
We support continuing effortsto get to the truth about what happened, which is necessary if anygenuine healing is to take place on the part of the girls, the priest,the community and a wounded Church.
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