A Catholic bishop in Puerto Rico described his removal from office by Pope Francis on Wednesday as “totally unjust.”
Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, who has led the Diocese of Arecibo since 2010, said he had been asked to resign because he “had not been obedient to the pope nor had I been in sufficient communion with my brother bishops of Puerto Rico.”
The Holy See press office announced 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.
Pope Francis appointed Bishop Álvaro Corrada del Río, S.J., bishop emeritus of Mayagüez, as apostolic administrator of the diocese in the north of the island of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States.
In a March 9 declaration, published on the diocesan website, Fernández Torres strongly objected to his removal.
He said: “I deeply regret that in the Church where mercy is so much preached, in practice some lack a minimum sense of justice.”
“No process has been made against me, nor have I been formally accused of anything and simply one day the apostolic delegate [the pope’s representative in Puerto Rico] verbally communicated to me that Rome was asking me to resign.”
“A successor of the apostles is now being replaced without even undertaking what would be a due canonical process to remove a parish priest.”
He went on: “I was informed that I had committed no crime but that I supposedly ‘had not been obedient to the pope nor had I 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 at the service of the Church in case at some time I was needed in some other position; an offer that in fact proves my innocence.”
“However, I did not resign because I did not want to become an accomplice of a totally unjust action and that even now I am reluctant to think that it could happen in our Church.”
The imminent removal of Fernández Torres was reported on March 8 by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.
The news agency said that the bishop had clashed with other bishops in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island with six dioceses.
ACI Prensa explained that Fernández Torres had initially resisted sending his seminarians to the new Interdiocesan Seminary of Puerto Rico, approved by the Vatican in March 2020.
The bishop of Arecibo had also supported conscientious objection to compulsory vaccination against COVID-19 in a statement published on Aug. 17, 2021.
He made the intervention after Pedro Pierluisi, the governor of Puerto Rico, issued an executive order that all government and healthcare workers, both in public and private institutions, must be vaccinated, as well as workers in the hotel 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 the pharmaceutical companies or drug regulatory agencies say 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 issued on Aug. 24 by the Puerto Rican bishops which said that “there is a duty to be vaccinated and that we do not see how a conscientious objection can be invoked from Catholic morality.”
The news agency said that Archbishop Ghaleb Moussa Abdalla Bader, the apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, reportedly requested the resignation of Fernández Torres, who refused, citing reasons of conscience.
It said that the bishop was summoned to the Vatican but did not make the trip due to the pandemic.
Fernández Torres was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 27, 1964. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Arecibo in 1995, at the age of 30.
In 2007, Benedict XVI named him an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Juan de Puerto Rico. Three years later, he was appointed bishop of Arecibo.
ACI Prensa said that Fernández Torres was an outspoken critic of gender ideology, describing new legislation in February 2021 as “religious persecution” and a violation of parental rights.
The news agency said that the case of Fernández Torres recalled that of the Paraguayan Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, who was removed from office by Pope Francis on Sept. 25, 2014.
Livieres Plano had overseen a thriving seminary in his Diocese Ciudad del Este. He was dismissed after an apostolic visit amid accusations of a lack of collegiality.
The bishop was also criticized for his handling of the case of a priest who had served as vicar general until shortly before the visitation. The priest had faced allegations of sexual impropriety, which he denied.
Livieres Plano said that he had refused to sign a resignation letter “on his own initiative, thus wanting to testify to the end of the truth and the spiritual freedom that a Pastor should have.”
He decried what he said was an attempt to impose “ideological uniformity” on Paraguay’s bishops using “the euphemism of ‘collegiality.’”
The bishop, who was ordained a priest of Opus Dei, died on Aug. 14, 2015, due to a liver condition.
(Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Arecibo via CNA)
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