Arecibo, Puerto Rico, March 9, 2022 / 6:05 a.m. (CNA).
A Catholic bishop in Puerto Rico on Wednesday called his removal from office by Pope Francis “totally unjust”.
Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, who led the Diocese of Arecibo since 2010, said he was asked to resign because he “had not been obedient to the pope and I had not been in sufficient communion with my brother bishops of Puerto Rico.”
The Holy See Press Office announcement on March 9 that the pope had relieved the 57-year-old bishop of the pastoral care of his diocese. The Vatican did not give a reason for the pope’s decision.
The Pope has appointed Bishop Álvaro Corrada del Río, SJ, Bishop Emeritus of Mayagüez, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of the North Island of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States.
In a March 9 declarationpublished on the diocesan website, Fernández Torres strongly opposed its withdrawal.
He said, “I deeply regret that in the Church where mercy is so preached, some lack in practice a modicum of sense of justice.”
“No trial was made against me, nor formally charged with anything and simply one day the apostolic delegate [the pope’s representative in Puerto Rico] communicated to me verbally that Rome was asking me to resign.
“A successor to the apostles is now being replaced without even undertaking what would be a proper canonical process to remove a parish priest.”
He continued: “I was informed that I had committed no crime but that I was said to have “not been obedient to the pope and that I had not been in sufficient communion with my brother bishops of Puerto Rico. “.”
“It was suggested to me that if I resigned from the diocese, I would remain in the service of the Church in case at some time I was needed in another position; an offer that actually proves my innocence.
“However, I did not resign because I did not want to become an accomplice in a totally unjust action and even now I hesitate to think that this could happen in our Church.”
The impending dismissal of Fernández Torres was reported on March 8 by ACI PrensaCNA’s Spanish language news partner.
The news agency said the bishop clashed with other bishops in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island with six dioceses.
ACI Prensa explained that Fernández Torres initially resisted sending his seminarians to the new interdiocesan seminary in Puerto Rico, approved by the Vatican in March 2020.
Pedro Pierluisi, the governor of Puerto Rico, issued an executive order that all government and health workers, both in public and private facilities, must be vaccinated, as well as workers in the hospitality industry.
In his letter, the bishop said that “it is legitimate for a faithful Catholic to have doubts about the safety and efficacy of a vaccine given that what pharmaceutical companies or regulatory agencies say medicines is in no way a dogma of faith”.
“And that safety and efficacy are relevant and necessary data for moral judgment,” he explained.
ACI Prensa reported that Fernández Torres refused to sign a joint statement on August 24 by the Puerto Rican bishops who stated that “there is a duty to be vaccinated and that we do not see how conscientious objection can be invoked from Catholic morality.”
The news agency said Archbishop Ghaleb Moussa Abdalla Bader, apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, had asked for the resignation of Fernández Torres, who reportedly refused, citing reasons of conscience.
He said the bishop was summoned to the Vatican but did not travel due to the pandemic.
Fernández Torres was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 27, 1964. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Arecibo in 1995, at the age of 30.
In 2007, Benedict XVI appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of San Juan de Puerto Rico. Three years later, he was appointed bishop of Arecibo.
ACI Prensa said Fernández Torres was an outspoken critic of gender ideology, describing the new February 2021 legislation as “religious persecution” and a violation of parental rights.
The news agency said Fernández Torres’ case was reminiscent of that of Paraguayan bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, who was removed from office by Pope Francis on September 25, 2014.
Livieres Plano had overseen a flourishing seminary in his diocese of Ciudad del Este. He was removed from office after an apostolic visitation amid accusations of lack of collegiality.
The bishop has also been criticized for his handling of the case of a priest who had served as vicar general of the diocese until shortly before the visit. The priest had faced allegations of sexual impropriety, which he denied.
Plano Livieres noted that he had refused to sign a letter of resignation “on his own initiative, thus wishing to testify to the end of the truth and the spiritual freedom that a pastor must have”.
He denounced what he called an attempt to impose “ideological uniformity” on the bishops of Paraguay using “the euphemism of ‘collegiality’.”
The bishop, who was ordained a priest of Opus Dei, died on August 14, 2015, from liver disease.
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