YET another priest has figured in a sexual harassment incident—-and once more, inside the confessional, a place that is supposed to be safe and sacrosanct.

I’m not saying that the priest in question is guilty. Or that the penitent is making up stories. The truth of the matter is that only the two people involved in the incident know what actually transpired inside the confessional.

I bring to light, though, the issue of vulnerability for both penitents and priest-confessors alike. Because it is very difficult to ascertain the truth in such a situation where it is often “one person’s word against another,” perhaps, the ultimate solution might be for the Church to ban face-to-face confessions.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Perhaps, we should simply return or maintain the traditional confessional box where there is a physical shield between priest and penitent. And why not enclose the confessional box in glass in the spirit of transparency?

While some penitents might actually prefer the opaque confines of the traditional confessional for privacy purposes, I am sure that the Catholic population would be willing to make adjustments to make way for safer confessions for both priest and penitent.

Granting that churches can construct a physically safer confessional, what should the Church do in cases wherein confessions have to be heard outside the premises of the church? In such situations, if make-shift barriers cannot be made use of, then the face-to-face confession must be in plain sight to everyone.

At any rate, priests should completely restrain themselves from making any form of physical contact with penitents. No matter how innocent the contact may be, there is no excuse for such physical contact and especially inside the confessional. The Church might also want to lay guidelines on what would be considered a safe physical distance between the priest and the penitent in cases of face-to-face confessions.

Really, if priests were more prudent in their actions, they would be less vulnerable to what they call “misunderstandings” or “false accusations.” The public at large, though, should also recognize that while allegations are not necessarily reflective of the truth, it is not commonplace for people to make up stories about having been sexually harassed.

The incident in itself is already traumatic. No one in her right mind would want to relive the experience many more times in the retelling. Reporting sexual harassment or molestation requires a lot of courage because the victim actually exposes herself to greater abuse—-public scrutiny, doubt and even condemnation.

The victim’s character, as well as actions, comes into question. Besides, unless you are suffering from some psychological illness, who has the time and energy to fabricate stories? While it is true that some stories may be fabricated, in general, people tell the truth. And the younger the victim, the more likely he or she is telling the truth.

For the protection of everyone, I ask the Church to make reforms in the confessional, unless of course they simply want Catholics to adopt the practice of confessing directly to God which would be tantamount to their flock converting to another faith altogether.

(sunstarcebucolumnist@yahoo.com)