Parishioners want suspended priest back

OLONGAPO CITY–Parishioners of a once sleepy church here are up in arms over the suspension of their parish priest by the bishop of Zambales last week for alleged disrespectfulness.
Leaders of some lay organizations of the Immaculate Conception Parish at Barangay Barretto here strung protest banners and signs in front of the church calling for the return of their parish priest.
Passersby read the protest banners posted by parishioners of the parish in this city.
“We are disappointed and confused why he was suspended at a time when we are about to celebrate the feast day of Mama Mary, and the Christmas season so near,” said Rodrigo Brier, coordinator of the Parish Pastoral Council.
Fr. Rodel San Juan was suspended by Bishop Florentino Lavarias of the Diocese of Iba after San Juan allegedly disrespected the bishop in a meeting last November 28 in front of priests and some members of the Volunteers In Prison Service (VIPS).
The meeting was called by Lavarias to confirm alleged statement made against him by San Juan.
After the meeting, the lay leaders who were waiting outside the rectory were told that San Juan was suspended. They later learned that Monsignor Chris Cacho, the Diocesan Vicar General, was appointed as administrator of the parish.
In a letter sent to Lavarias, the lay leaders asked the bishop to look into the matter deeply and “lift the suspension order.”
The letter was signed by PPC officers Brier, Erlinda Crispin, Ivy Facultad, Merinnisa Ligaya, and Corazon Alba.
Some 600 parishioners also signed the letter of appeal.
According to Brier, they have yet to see a written suspension notice or a written appointment of Cacho as the administrator.
“We want him back. He has energized the parish and has done a very good job as our leader,” Brier said.
The parish was being run by Irish priests of the Columban Order since its establishment, and San Juan is the first Filipino appointed to run the parish.
“Kailangan namin si Fr. Rodel San Juan. Siya ang mahal ng parokya at nagmulat sa aming pananalig,” read one of the banners. Another banner read, “Obispo, bakit mo hinubaran ang simbahan. Saan na kami?!! Paano na kami?!! Nasaan ang pastol namin?”
In a text message to a local media man, Monsignor Cacho said that Fr. Gerald Pascual will answer the queries of the media. But Pascual could not be reached for comments as of press time.
Mediamen also called Bishop Lavarias’ mobile phone but he would not answer the calls.

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