Order didn’t banish priest, cardinal explains

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Thursday, October 4, 2012


A CHURCH official wasn’t expelled from a religious order in the midst of a child abuse case more than two decades ago, but chose to return home to Cebu, said Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

Cardinal Vidal also told reporters yesterday that his office received last Friday, when he was still in Manila, a copy of Arbishop Jose Palma’s instructions to stop issuing statements to the media regarding the issue.

The 81-year-old prelate said he is abiding by the directive but had to first hold a press conference just to clarify some issues that were already reported.

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Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, former Archdiocesan Commission on Worship chairman, was not expelled from his former congregation, Cardinal Vidal said.

“He was given by the Holy See what is called an indult exclaustration (where) a cleric is given the privilege to withdraw from the congregation and look for a bishop who will accept him. He was given three years (to do so),” said the former Cebu archbishop.

An indult exclaustration, which is applicable to religious congregations, is a favor in response to a request made to the congregation to be transferred. This favor is granted simultaneously with the acceptance of a transferee, by a diocese.

The favor is not confined to those who have committed offenses but is applicable to all requests for transfer.

Cardinal Vidal said that Garcia, who hails from Cebu, preferred to work in the Archdiocese of Cebu.

“When he came here, I was called the benevolent bishop for accepting him,” he added.

Probation

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) ruling on the transfer of priests, such as cases involving clergy leaving a religious congregation to become a diocesan priest, was followed in his case. The ruling is applicable to all priests who file such requests.

Applicants for incardination, or the process of accepting priests in a diocese, are given a probation time for observation of practices of local tradition or culture and personal renewal.

“He (Garcia) was entrusted to (the late) Archbishop Manuel Salvador, who was a canon lawyer. After three years, then he was incardinated to the archdiocese,” said Vidal.

The prelate said he was surprised and puzzled that a case that was more than two decades old is being reviewed by the Holy See or the office of Pope Benedict XVI.

“We have already done everything,” he said, adding that he has all the documents of Garcia’s incardination and that he will submit these to Vatican City.

Msgr. Garcia is, in secular terms, on administrative leave as a result of an investigation. He has been relieved of all his official duties in the archdiocese.

Whose move?

Archbishop Palma, during a press conference last week, said Garcia’s past case was elevated to the Holy See and that his office was directed to submit documents.

Palma, who is also CBCP president, refrained from giving media statements on the issues involving Garcia after the conference.

He earlier told Sun.Star Cebu that this is to give due respect to ongoing state and church investigations.

Palma has said this case came before Garcia’s controversial alleged statements on the ivory trade in the country that are included in an article in National Geographic magazine’s October issue.

Vidal also clarified media reports that he had wanted to declare writer Brian Christy persona non grata or personally unacceptable or unwelcome.

“It should be the government. It is not proper for me to say that,” the prelate told reporters yesterday at his residence in Cebu City.

His answer

“I was asked ‘Do you think he should be declared persona non grata?’ I answered, ‘I am not the proper person to do that,’” he said.

The magazine article in question was the catalyst for an investigation led by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and a separate probe by the Catholic church.

Christy, in his blog (http://bryanchristy.com/blog/) comments on developments after his article was published online.

In a post titled, “My First ‘Persona non Grata’ (At least from a Cardinal)”, dated Oct. 2, 2012 Christy said, “The Cardinal suggests I lied about my interest in religious devotion. He is mistaken. I studied this topic and interviewed many people to help me understand the context for venerating holy images regardless of whether they were ivory. This was an honest interest in Filipino culture and is reflected in the story and here.”

Cardinal Vidal recalled that Garcia was the last priest ordained by his predecessor, the late Julio Cardinal Rosales, in the United States as a member of a Dominican congregation.

After undergoing a program for priests, Garcia became known for his expertise in liturgical rituals and formulas, and also served as business manager of the archdiocesan newsletter.

Congregation

He founded a religious congregation of men and women who assist in various capacities, including administration and liturgical services, in parishes within the archdiocese and the suffragan diocese of Dumaguete.

Cardinal Vidal said the work of the congregation, the Society of the Angels of Peace (SAP), will continue under the supervision of Archbishop Palma.

Palma led the fiesta mass at the Diocesan Shrine of Jesus the Nazarene, the residence of SAP, in Barangay Cansojong in Talisay City yesterday afternoon.

Sun.Star Cebu tried to enter the premises and observe the mass but was barred by guards who said media practitioners were not allowed inside.

Cardinal Vidal, in yesterday morning’s press conference, also said he does not know the details on the status of Garcia regarding the current investigation.

The controversy as a result of the magazine article and the investigation of Garcia has saddened the 81-year-old retired bishop.

“It (ivory issue) has affected the Church. Some people are saying this is an attack on the Church,” said Vidal. “Maybe the writer (Christy) has no intention, but it’s the effect of the issue (that should be observed).”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 04, 2012.

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