Bishops elect Cebu prelate as their leader; PCSO scandal probe to be handled by full council
Cebu’s Archbishop Jose Palma will soon head the official organization of the Catholic hierarchy in the country.
His predecessor, Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, will still play an active role in the ongoing inquiry into the donation of Pajeros to bishops by the former Arroyo administration.
Palma was elected yesterday afternoon as the incoming president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the conference’s news agency said.
His selection came amid reports that the CBCP permanent council took over the internal investigation into the Pajero scandal from the Episcopal Commission on Bishops’ Concerns headed by Vidal.
Despite this Msgr. Esteban Binghay, episcopal vicar of the Cebu Archdiocese, said Vidal will continue to play a leading role in the internal investigation into the donation of sports utility vehicles to the bishops by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
Meeting in Manila, the CBCP plenary assembly voted Palma, the 61-year-old Cebu archbishop, as their new president.
CBCPNews said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socartes Villegas was elected vice president.
The bishops also chose Dumaguete Bishop John Du as their next treasurer and Msgr. Joselito Asis as their new secretary general, it added. Their terms of office will begin in December.
“Please pray for me. Also, I hope Cebuanos will understand when there are times when I’m away of the archdiocese,” Palma told Cebu Daily News over the phone.
As CBCP president, Palma said he will “foster solidarity among the bishops” and implement pastoral directives from the Catholic Church.
Palma’s election as incoming CBCP president was welcomed by local government officials and Catholic Church leaders.
Msgr. Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer of the archdiocese, said Palma’s election as CBCP president entails greater responsibilities.
“We welcome with great joy his (Palma) election as the new CBCP president. However, the responsibilities laid upon him are quite heavy. Let us help him,” Dakay told Cebu Daily News over the phone.
Binghay said Palma will still be based in Cebu City where he acts as chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
But Palma will have to go to Manila once in awhile to attend meetings of the CBCP and do necessary works there.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia lauded Palma’s election as CBCP president, saying he is the right person chosen at the right time.
“We are confident in his ability to lead the CBCP during this crucial times,” Garcia said in a text message sent to CDN.
She said Palma had been a good shepherd to his four million Cebuano Catholic flock despite being six months on the job.
“We have seen his brand of principled and stead leadership right here in Cebu,” Garcia said.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama also congratulated Palma for being elected as CBCP president, saying Cebu City is honored and blessed by the event.
“We extend our support to Archbishop Palma in leading CBCP endeavors, which will help enhance the quality of life and spiritual life of the Filipinos,” Rama said.
Rama’s consultant Paul Hubahib said Palma can still manage to do multitasking since he is not yet very old. “He can handle a lot of things. We appreciate his diplomatic skills,” Hubahib said.
Palma was installed as the fourth archbishop of the archdiocese of Cebu. His predecessor, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu Riacrdo Cardinal Vidal, is also a former CBCP president.
In a related development, Bishop Nereo Odchimar of Tandag, current CBCP president, said the council thanked Vidal for doing “the initial data gathering” on the Pajero scandal in his capacity as chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Bishops’ Concerns.
The Catholic hierarchy is embroiled in a controversy over millions of pesos in donations from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office at the behest of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. With an Inquirer report
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