Philippine priest in unwed mum outburst faces sanctions

MANILA (AFP) - A Philippine priest faces possible sanctions after his scathing condemnation of an unwed mother in church ignited a social media firestorm, his religious superiors said on Tuesday.

Father Romeo Obach angrily scolded a young mother in church on Sunday as she held her newborn baby in her arms to be baptised, apparently unaware his comments were being videotaped.

"You should be ashamed of yourself for bringing your child to be baptised when you don't even have a husband," the priest is shown telling the visibly shaken young woman in a clip uploaded on YouTube which has since gone viral.

"You are shameless. You slept with a man who is not even your husband," he alleged.

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?" Both the priest and his religious order later issued separate public apologies and the order promised an investigation. The Philippines is a mainly Catholic nation.

"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 judgemental attitude begun by Pope Francis.

"As a religious community we do not condone such an unacceptable act," the order said in its statement, adding it would reach out to the family of the young woman, a parishioner in the central city of Cebu.

The Redemptorists' media officer in Cebu, Father Alfonso Suico, told AFP Obach would likely be required to "take time for prayer and reflection and will not be allowed to celebrate sacraments publicly for a duration to be determined by our superiors".

Obach said in a separate statement: "The words I said and the rude attitude that I showed before I performed the rite of baptism... was indeed unbecoming." "I am deeply sorry to the mother of the child, her relatives, the sponsors and the witnesses of the incident."

The 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.

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.

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