You are not signed in as a Premium user; you are viewing the free version of this program. Premium users have access to full-length programs with limited commercials and receive a 10% discount in the store! Sign up for only one day for the low cost of $1.99. Click the button below.
BORONGAN, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - A prominent Filipino priest, celebrated for promoting devotion to the Rosary and a controversial Marian apparition, has been laicized by Pope Francis for allegedly abusing minors.
The diocese of Borongan announced Sunday on its Facebook page that the holy father "has dismissed from the clerical state Fr. Pio Cultura Aclon." The priest is "no longer a cleric and cannot exercise priestly ministry in the Church."
Hundreds of Fr. Aclon's supporters slammed the diocesan statement signed by the bishop of Borongan, Crispin B. Varquez, and chancellor Fr. James B. Abella, with many pointing out that the champion of a controversial Marian vision was "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
The circular, dated July 18, did not state the reason for Fr. Aclon's expulsion from the clerical state, but the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' news service revealed that the priest was defrocked "over sexual abuse involving minors."
"Aclon last served at a minor seminary in Borongan before the diocese suspended him from his clerical duties," the CBCP news media explained.
The defrocked priest hit back in a Facebook post and demanded proof from the diocese that he was indeed dismissed by the holy father.
"I give you 10 days to provide us [with] the letter. You may send it to my legal counsel, Justice Harriet Demetriou. I repeat, send the letter of Pope Francis to me," he wrote. "Matters like this are communicated to the concerned individual and not in the social media platform."
"The bishop of Borongan should explain regarding this matter because he violated, again, not only my canonical right but also my civil right!" Aclon added, attaching the diocesan notice.
Several supporters of Fr. Aclon accused the hierarchy of targeting the priest because of his advocacy for the popular Marian apparition known as "Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace," which was allegedly sighted at Lipa, Batangas, in 1948.
There has also been speculation that the priest's laicization in July may have been retaliation for a case filed against Dominican superior Fr. Winston Cabading, who was arrested after he attacked the popular devotion to "Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace."
Police detained Fr. Cabading in May on criminal charges of "offending religious feelings." The case against the theologian was filed by devout Catholic, Harriet Demetriou, former justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan and former elections chief of the Philippines.
Justice Demetriou, an ardent devotee of the Lipa visions, earlier defended Fr. Aclon pro bono when he was suspended from saying Mass in public "because of his ardent advocacy in promoting the authenticity of the apparitions in Lipa."
Over 200 testimonies from individuals, families and communities whose lives Fr. Aclon had touched were sent in six brown envelopes to Bp. Tobias' (the judicial vicar) office after the priest was sanctioned in 2017.
The visions of Lipa are said to have been seen by Sr. Teresita Castillo, a Carmelite postulant. In the final apparition to Castillo, the Blessed Virgin is alleged to have identified herself, saying, "I am the Mediatrix of All Grace."
There were fifteen reported apparitions. Mary appeared in white robes and held a golden rosary.
The visions were initially declared as "non-supernatural" in 1951 after an investigation by six Filipino bishops headed by Cdl. Rufino Santos. In 1991, the local bishop reopened the case.
Defying the Vatican and his fellow bishops, the then-archbishop of Lipa, Ramón Argüelles, formally approved the apparitions in September 2015, declaring them "supernatural in character and worthy of belief."
The then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded in December 2015, arguing that Pope Pius XII had made a "definitive" confirmation in 1951 against "the supposed apparitions" and declared they "were not of supernatural origin."
In June 2016, Abp. Argüelles retracted his declaration and reverted to the Holy See's judgment.
Aclon's dismissal has sparked renewed discussions over the sexual misconduct of Filipino clergy. In his book Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church, investigative reporter Aries Rufio exposes the "ticking time bomb" of profligate priests.
Rufio maintains that in the diocese of Pampanga, almost one-third of priests were having sexual affairs or siring children, noting that he was provided with a list of 35 fornicating priests out of the more than 100 in the diocese.
Across the nation, an average of 50 priests are in a "conflict situation" at any given time, almost all accused of having illicit affairs, notes retired Abp. Oscar Cruz, head of a dispensation and dismissal section in the CBCP that investigates priests who go astray.
Rufio cites the anecdote of a meeting between papal nuncio Abp. Giuseppe Pinto with a retired prelate.
When Pinto assured the Filipino archbishop that the Church would "provide support to children fathered by priests," the prelate responded, "But, Your Excellency, if you do that, you will be responsible for the bankruptcy of the Catholic Church in the Philippines!"