Friday, March 11, 2011

Erring priests
Editorial: Dealing with erring priests
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Thursday, March 10, 2011
CEBU Archbishop Jose Palma is finally looking into the recent incident at the St. Augustine parish in Olango island. This is his first encounter with a controversy involving an “erring” priest in the archdiocese.

“I don’t know the priests. I don’t know their backgrounds,” Palma admitted. So for the incident involving Fr. Leopoldo Palacio Jr. and the earlier one involving Fr. Jonathan Lao in Danao, Palma went to the archdiocese’s Board of Consultors.

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Palacio was accused of pushing and punching an acolyte in Barangay Sta. Rosa, Olango island while Lao was accused of shooting Mark Robert Cecilio Ymbong, 19, last month.

But even if Palma sounds lost, the principle that he said would guide him in dealing with erring priests could make him veer away from the past practice of his predecessor, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

“I believe that…the number one consideration is the good of the community. When we evaluate things, the important (point) is we look at what is good for the community,” Palma said.

That is substantially different from putting the interest of the clergy above that of the community, something that seemingly guided the archdiocese’s treatment of incidents involving priests in the past.

It’s not that Vidal didn’t punish erring priests; he was even said to have scolded them, which was not in keeping with his calm demeanor. But the impression one got overall was that of an archdiocese more conscious with the image of the clergy than of the interest of the community.

Erring priests were shielded from public view, which was almost like they were coddled. And in every incident the archdiocese either clams up or defends the priest--and downplays the questionable conduct. Transparency went out of the window.

Palma has so far been openly talking about the investigation he is conducting on Palacio and, to a certain extent, Lao. He also eased the worries of those affected by the priest’s actuations by talking directly with them.

It’s possible that this is only temporary and that when Palma fully settles down in his job and is influenced by the prevailing culture in the archdiocese, he will change. But for now at least, he seems to be on the right track.

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