The story goes that there was this devout Catholic nun in the Philippines who talked with Jesus every night. The bishop heard this story often and wanted to put an end to it.

Despite his busy schedule, he made it a point to visit her at the school where she taught mathematics. She was small, old and kind looking. He felt compassion for her. But he also felt he had a responsibility to the church. It should not be held up to ridicule."Sister," he said kindly. "I understand that Jesus visits you in your room every night. Is that true?"

The nun was very quiet for a long time and then answered in a humble voice. "Yes, that is true." The tone of her voice was matter of fact. She seemed neither proud nor embarrassed.

"Well that's a great honor sister. One that has not happened to many of us," he said. "Are you certain it's Jesus?"

"I'm certain," she said.

The bishop walked around the room a bit before speaking to her again.

"I too would like to be certain," he said. "So I could be certain would you please ask him when you see him next what sin it was that the bishop committed when he was 16 years old. Would you do that for me sister?"

She smiled slightly and said that she would be glad to ask the Lord the question posed by the bishop.

The next day the bishop showed up at the nun's school before her classes began. When she came to him, he observed her closely to see if there was any change about her. She seemed no different. She walked slowly toward him and greeted him politely.

The bishop was in a hurry. He had an even busier schedule than usual. He got to the point quickly. "Sister, did you see Jesus again last night?" he asked somewhat sternly. "Yes," she replied.

"And did you ask the question of him that I requested," he said. "Yes, I did. I asked him what was the sin the bishop did when he was 16," she said calmly.

The bishop looked directly into her eyes. "And what did the Lord reply," he asked. "Jesus smiled at me," she said, "and he told me that you had asked forgiveness of that sin. And, that being the case, he could no longer remember it."

This story was told to me by the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. I assume that it's apocryphal. But the point made is well taken. The Bible does teach in Psalms that when we who sin ask for forgiveness, the sin is removed from us ''as far as the East is from the West."

Therefore, when Jim Bakker said that God had forgiven him for his one- night encounter with a 21-year-old church secretary, he was basing his opinion on scripture. But does being forgiven mean he should not suffer the consequences of his actions? A mother is more than prepared to forgive her child after he runs into a busy street, even though she had warned him not to. But that won't stop the car from running over the child.

Even worse than the one-night fling was the attempt by Rev. Bakker to cover up what happened, to the point of paying the object of his passion $265,000 not to mention it to anyone. We all sin. But being hypocritical about it is truly unforgiveable. It implies a lack of sincere repentence. I suspect that not even God forgives those who aren't really sorry so much for what they did as for having been caught.

To be a moral leader you have to be a moral person. That doesn't mean you won't make mistakes. But it does mean you have to admit them and bear the consequences of them.

That's what the Irangate affair is all about.

Although President Reagan's trading of weapons to Iran in exchange for American hostages is probably not quite as morally reprehensible as Rev. Bakker's bedroom encounter, the cover-up and the seemingly lack of sincere regret by the president has seriously undermined his moral leadership.

Europeans to a large extent can't comprehend that. French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac last week called the Irangate "a typical American affair." Europeans, he said, would have paid little attention to the disclosure. But that's the difference between the American system and the European. European leaders, and perhaps most non-American leaders in the world, command respect by the power and knowledge they wield.

Power and knowledge is important to be a leader in America, too. But being a moral and truthful person is also required if you are to lead America.

"Vive la difference."

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe