IN AN effort to clear his name, a priest accused of harassing female students of a Catholic school came out yesterday to deny the allegations.

“Wala ma’y hinol-hinol o halok-halok nga nahitabo (I didn’t touch or kiss them), I think I was misinterpreted”, said the priest, who visited Sun.Star Cebu yesterday.

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Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has convened a team tasked to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment against the diocesan priest, Archdiocesan media liaison officer Msgr. Achilles Dakay said.

Dakay said the doors of Vidal's office are open to the students who complained against the priest, who allegedly harassed them while hearing confession during a retreat.

The priest, who requested not to be named, denied he touched the bra straps of the female students and attempted to kiss them.

“Wala man ko namitik ug bra o nag-kiss nila. Na misinterpret siguro sa mga bata. Ang akong gibuhat ato kay gi-tap ra man nako ilang abaga. Ug nagpaduol raman ko sa akong nawong ug naghunghung ug tambag (I think the children misinterpreted what I did. I only tapped them on the shoulder and whispered my advice),” he said.

He also denied he is dating a guest relations officer and some nuns, as claimed by the students.

The priest said the topic on dating came up in an open forum he conducted with the female students before the confession.

“Gipangutana ko nila kung pwede ra ba ang pari ug madre mag-uyab ug kung naa ba’y uyab ang mga pari. Ako sila’ng gitubag nga naa’y mga pari nga nagkadayon ug madre ug that priests and nuns are human also, and are also prone to feelings (They asked me if priests and nuns could enter into romantic relationships. I told them there were priests and nuns who left their vocation to marry),” said the priest.

He said when he heard confession last July 20, he left the door of the confession room open and raised the curtains so the students could see what was happening inside.

“Ako pa gani gi-on ang electric fan ug gi-pakusgan aron malayog ang kurtina para makit-an mi sa mga tawo nga naa sa gawas (I even turned the electric fan on so it would blow the curtains and people could see what’s going on inside),” said the priest.

He said he decided to be careful after priests have been involved in controversies while hearing confession.

He was surprised the next day when he received a text message from the school’s campus ministry head, telling him a student complained to the school administrator regarding his alleged misdeeds.

Although he was not worried about the allegation, the priest asked the campus ministry head to schedule a meeting with him, the parents of the students and the school administrator so he can give his side on the matter.

During the meeting the following day, he was met with negative reactions about the incident.

But he told them the chaplain of the retreat house, the school’s campus ministry head and the class teacher-in-charge are witnesses to attest to his innocence.

The priest said he talked to Cardinal Vidal about the matter.

Vidal, after hearing his side of the story, asked Fr. Raul Go, Archdiocesan judicial vicar, to conduct an investigation.

Vidal reminded the priest to prepare himself for the investigation and its results.

A three-man committee was formed to look into the allegations, Dakay.

He said the officials of the Catholic school, the students who complained and the priest involved would be called to give their accounts on the incident.

On the church's disciplinary action on erring priests, Dakay said priests are to follow proper conduct during public confessions.

The Canon Law, a set of guidelines for priests, contains sanctions for misconduct they commit, such as suspension of priestly faculty to hear confession.

In the past, Vidal suspended a diocesan priest's faculty to hear confession after being accused of committing acts of lasciviousness by female students of a public school.

But Dakay said the priest involved in the new should not be judged.

"Do not compare this case with those of other priests. They are involved in totally different cases," said Dakay.

"Why do we have to pre-empt (the investigation)," he added.