Vatican suspends Cebu priest

CEBU CITY — A high-ranking official of the Archdiocese of Cebu has been suspended from his duties while the Vatican City investigates a child abuse case filed against him in the United States more than two decades ago.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said the US case against former Archdiocesan Commission on Worship chairman Msgr. Cristobal Garcia has been elevated to the Holy See or the office of Pope Benedict XVI, which initiated the investigation.
“The case started before the present controversy (on the ivory trade) erupted,” said the archbishop during a press conference Wednesday morning.
Palma is also president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which apologized in 2002 for the abuses committed by priests but emphasized that errant priests were a minority.
It was not explained on Wednesday what had prompted the Vatican to act now on the case, which developed in the mid-1980s yet. A report published in March 2005 by the Dallas Morning News said that the priest had accused the complainants, including an altar boy, of blackmail.
Palma, who became Cebu archbishop in January 2011, told reporters that he is not familiar with the case against the monsignor.
But “he (Garcia) is no longer connected with the posts he had occupied before,” Palma said, adding that he recently communicated with Garcia.
“He is sick. He is in a hospital. We respect this opportunity for him; (he is there) for a check-up,” he added.
“I have also fulfilled the Holy See’s instructions regarding submission of documents and acting upon related consequences,” the archbishop said.
These documents include all communications, files and ordinations, or the process by which one is admitted to the priesthood.
Monsignor Garcia’s position is currently held by Fr. Glen Guanzon, while Fr. Expedito Torrevillas was assigned to the Commission on Liturgy.
The monsignor’s name, as earlier pointed out by Sun.Star Cebu, no longer appears in the Archdiocesan newsletter, Ang Bag-ong Lungsoranon.
Archbishop Palma said the group founded by Garcia, the Society of the Angels of Peace (SAP) will be headed in the meantime by one of its two priests. It is a congregation of religious men and women working on liturgical celebration services in parishes with the archdiocese.
In a separate interview, Archdiocesan Media Liaison officer Msgr. Achilles Dakay said that Archbishop Palma received orders from Vatican City to suspend Garcia.
Dakay added that the suspension was in effect since June, which means that Garcia’s priestly faculties such as saying mass, hearing confession, and officiating at weddings has been impaired.
“He (Garcia) many not say mass in public,” said Dakay.
There is no time frame for the suspension, which was implemented as prescribed by the rules and regulations followed by the Catholic Church, the Canon Law.
“I thought the case was closed in the US as a civil case. I do not know why it reached the Vatican,” said Dakay.
The case Garcia is facing is a child abuse case filed when he was still a member of the Dominican order, said Dakay.
He added that it was the late Julio Cardinal Rosales, then archbishop of Cebu, who ordained Garcia as a Dominican priest.
“He (Garcia) was the last priest ordained by Cardinal Rosales,” said Dakay.
In a separate interview, Episcopal Vicar Msgr. Esteban Binghay said it was Rosales’ successor, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who allowed the incardination of Garcia in Cebu.
Monsignor Binghay is a canon lawyer.
Incardination is the process followed by Catholic clergy when they either visit or choose to reside permanently in a diocese. A priest would need permission from the bishop of the diocese he is leaving to transfer to another diocese, where he is also required to seek permission to stay.
Binghay also said it was Cardinal Vidal who appointed Garcia as Archdiocesan Commission on Worship chairman.
Garcia made many improvements and implementation of the rules and regulations on liturgical services in the archdiocese, said Binghay.
“He (Garcia) even founded the Society of the Angels of Peace, who help the archdiocese during liturgical celebrations and trainings,” he added.
Garcia also promoted several religious devotions including the Holy Nazarene, the Hubo ritual of the Santo Niño or the changing of vestments after the annual Sinulog celebration, and the devotion to the Ecce Homo or the suffering Christ.
He also re-named the SAP convent into the Archdiocesan Shrine of Jesus of the Nazarene.
Garcia is also well-known for his collection of religious images of various shapes and sizes and from different materials including ivory, porcelain and candy wrappers.
Binghay said he has known Garcia for about 40 years as a good person. (BAP of Sun.Star Cebu)

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