CBCP head notes ‘unfair judgment’ against bishops

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Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, fields questions from the media after a press conference at the end of the 108th CBCP plenary assembly, Jan. 27, 2014.

MANILA, Jan. 27, 2014— A top Church official has described criticisms that bishops only visit high-profile detainees like former President, and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo as ‘unfair’.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, said priests and bishops often visit jails in their respective areas silently and without the need for media attention.

“You only count the number of bishops because the one in Veterans’ (hospital) is a high-profile detainee… that’s why people noticed that,” Villegas told reporters.

“When we visit ordinary prisoners, ordinary jails, we don’t tell mass media that we are visiting them. But we do visit them,” he said.

Villegas said that he himself and his priests regularly visit jails in his archdiocese in Pangasinan because of their obligation to attend to the spiritual needs of the inmates.

“I’m sure I am not the only one. I’m sure there are other bishops who do their work quietly by visiting these prisons. They are not high-profile prisoners that’s why they go unnoticed,” he said.

Criticisms against the bishops flooded the social media when five more bishops visited Arroyo, who is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City last Sunday.

Prior to that, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, a known critic of Arroyo during her presidency, also visited the former president early this month.

The CBCP head said he believes that the Arroyo family sought the help of the bishops who held Mass for the lawmaker.

“And when they got the chance, they went there according to their prudent judgment as pastors. Any priest, if sought for help, has an obligation to help,” Villegas stressed.

The church leaders who recently visited Arroyo include retired Tuguegarao Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan, Lucena Bishop Emilio Marquez, Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tirona, and Bayombong Bishop Ramon Villena.

If need and if time permits, Villegas said he himself would be willing to visit Arroyo, who is facing charges over the misuse of Philippine Sweepstakes Office fund.

“If there is a request from their camp that they need help spiritually, asking if I can visit to talk or pray or even advice, as a priest, I must see her,” the soft-spoken archbishop said.

He said that as pastors, it is their obligation to visit anyone, “regardless of whoever” that person is.

“It is my duty to help because that is my mandate from God,” said Villegas. (CBCPNews)

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