abuses in the Catholic Church

Borongan bishop divulges confidential Vatican letter proving priest’s dismissal

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Borongan bishop divulges confidential Vatican letter proving priest’s dismissal

DEFROCKED. Father Pio Aclon is dismissed by Pope Francis from the priesthood.

Pio C. Aclon/Facebook

This comes after dismissed priest Pio Aclon, who is accused of sexual abuse, threatened to take ‘appropriate legal actions’ against Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez if he failed to produce a copy of the Vatican’s dismissal order

MANILA, Philippines – Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez divulged on Wednesday, September 27, a confidential Vatican letter proving the dismissal of Pio Aclon from the priesthood, upping the ante in one of the most publicized church conflicts in years. 

Aclon, who is popular among devotees of the controversial Our Lady of Lipa, was dismissed by Pope Francis “for sexual abuse involving minors,” said the news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

The Vatican letter – signed by Monsignor John J. Kennedy, secretary for the disciplinary section of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – was dated May 10, 2023, and was labeled “confidential” in bold uppercase letters at the topmost part.

According to this letter, the provisions of a definitive decree declare that “Pio Aclon is dismissed from the clerical state” and that “a mandate to impose a perpetual expiatory, including dismissal from the clerical state, was granted by the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” 

Varquez made the rare move of releasing confidential Vatican correspondence after Aclon sent him a demand letter through his lawyer Delyen Madula.

Aclon threatened to take “appropriate legal actions” against the bishop if he failed to provide a copy of the Vatican decision dismissing him from the priesthood. The former priest made this demand on September 18, a day after the Diocese of Borongan publicized the dismissal.

‘Vehement’ refusal

In a reply on Monday, September 25, Varquez’s lawyer Colleen Calleja said: “The letter in question is a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the bishop. Hence, it is a private communication. The discipline of the Church treats with confidentiality communication between the Holy See and the ordinaries or the bishops.”

Calleja also refuted Madula’s claim that the diocese’s publication of a dismissal notice violated the former priest’s civil and canonical rights. 

Citing the Vatican report, she said there had been several attempts since February 2020 “to serve the decree to Mr. Aclon to notify him of his dismissal, but he vehemently refused to receive them.” She said Aclon “was hiding in Manila and nowhere to be found.”

Calleja said the “proof of notification” was a notarized document signed by Aclon’s sister, Leonora Aclon Parson, which, under canon law, meant that the document “is considered served.” 

“Since your client is demanding for the document(s) that he vehemently refused to receive several times, it is but proper to attach the same in this reply while preserving confidentiality,” said Varquez’s lawyer, referring to redacted portions on why Aclon was dismissed.

Calleja also argued that “there is nothing libelous or slanderous” about the dismissal notice published by the Diocese of Borongan, because “it is information to the public on a matter of fact – that the priest in question has been laicized,” which means he was made a layperson.

“Our client acted on his canonical duty to inform the public of the Vatican’s decision by issuing the Informationis Causa. He acted based on the existence and truth of the said Vatican documents regarding the dismissal of Mr. Aclon from the clerical state, hence, malice cannot be imputed against him,” said the bishop’s lawyer. 

‘Libelous,’ says ex-priest’s lawyer

Father James Abella, chancellor of the Diocese of Borongan, said that their diocese “has decided to make our reply available to all – so that truth and justice may prevail.”

Rappler is still trying to reach Aclon through SMS and Messenger, and his lawyer through email and a landline call, as of Thursday afternoon. We likewise sent Aclon requests for comment on September 17, the day we published the story on his dismissal, but such messages remain unanswered.

In their camp’s demand letter, Aclon’s lawyer said that “deplorably,” neither the Vatican decision nor a letter from Pope Francis was included in the notice of dismissal published by the Diocese of Borongan. Along with the diocese’s publication, said Madula, “articles of defamatory imputation and libelous materials were also published on different social media platforms.”

“The matter posted on different social media platforms, even when performed as a legal, moral, or social duty to bring to the knowledge of the members of the church or the general public, is still considered libelous,” Madula said. “You have violated not only our client’s canonical right but also his civil rights.”

“Pursuant to the church’s canonical due process, the concerned cleric has to receive the notice first. However, you instead resorted to malicious publication,” said Madula.

Aclon is best known for spreading devotion to Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, based on the reported 1948 apparition of Mary before a Carmelite postulant in Lipa, Batangas. The Vatican has repeatedly stated that nothing is miraculous about the controversial Lipa apparition, but devotees have consistently questioned such pronouncements by the church hierarchy.

The Mediatrix devotion made headlines in recent months after retired Sandiganbayan justice Harriet Demetriou filed an “offending religious feelings” case against Father Winston Cabading, an exorcist priest, for being a “rabid critic of Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace.”

Demetriou, a Mediatrix devotee who also acts as Aclon’s legal adviser, told Rappler that the Diocese of Borongan committed “an act of bad faith meant to publicly shame Father Pio Aclon and destroy him in the process.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com