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CEBU, Philippines – Several priests have called on proponents of the division of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu into three new territories to conduct an extensive study and wide consultations first.
The call came after the Archdiocese of Cebu held a clergy gathering on September 19 to present a study on “Sugbuswak,” the move to split the archdiocese into the Archdiocese of Cebu-Central, Diocese of Cebu-South, and Diocese of Cebu-North.
However, the study that was presented was already “made up” even before important questions were asked, said Fr. Euselito Tulipas, parish priest of the Mary Help of Christians in Buhisan, Cebu City.
Tulipas said one framework for the move was to present it “as a legacy of the outgoing archbishop.”
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma is turning 75 in 2025, the age when bishops are required to hand in their resignation letter to the Pope.
Tulipas said the archdiocese will encounter problems if they approach the move as a legacy for the archbishop with a target date.
He said there should be a detailed study on the demographics of Cebu, particularly regarding the number and status of Catholics.
Tulipas also said there should be a transparent and extensive study on the finances of the archdiocese.
The start of the process to break up the Archdiocese of Cebu was announced during a mass last New Year’s Eve by Chancellor Monsignor Renato Beltran Jr.
In July, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) approved the division of the archdiocese during its plenary assembly in Kalibo, Aklan.
During the Day of Prayer and Discernment on September 19, Palma said in his welcome message that the Sugbuswak study was a “work in progress” and nothing was final.
He also said, according to the archdiocese’s official newsletter Bag-ong Lungsoranon, that he planned to submit the documents to the Vatican after the CBCP meeting in January 2024.
During a Cebu Caritas interview, Palma said a key reason for the breakup was pastoral management and being near to the faithful.
He cited as an example being invited to say mass in Samboan, a town at the southern tip of Cebu. Because of the distance, Palma said, he needs to spend an entire day traveling just for a single mass.
He said it’s worse for people who wanted to see the archbishop, Palma said.
Palma said, “I pity them” because of the long travel that they undertake. With a smaller diocese, he said “the bishop can easily be within their reach.”
During the open forum on September 19, Fr. Ver Pedrano said that he thought Cebu was not yet ready to be divided into new territories.
He also expressed his hope that priests could be consulted at the district level.
Fr. Michael Raypan, a representative of the Upper Middle Clergy Group A, read a position paper listing their concerns on Sugbuswak.
The paper, which was distributed to priests during the proceedings, included the following five key issues:
- Dwindling and aging demographics
- The historical value of the undivided Archdiocese of Cebu
- The contiguous character of the province
- The absence of a significant increase in the number of Catholics and clerics
- The incardination and excardination process in the assignment of priests
The group also requested a parallel study on the viability of keeping the archdiocese as it is.
“It is our prayer that we may be given ample time to reflect on the pros and cons of Sugbuswak,” stated the paper read by Raypan.
“Allow us to have a free discussion in our districts and challenge us to ask the hard and difficult questions so that the variables may be seen and understood. A decision such as this shall not be made in haste,” it added.
Many parishioners still do not know the details of the move to break up the archdiocese, said Greta Edith Suarez, a student at Cebu Technological University main campus and a social communications volunteer for the Carcar City parish.
“I think that the implementation shouldn’t be rushed,” she said. – Rappler.com