Archbishop Cruz replaced by Bishop 'Soc'
MANILA - The Vatican has accepted the resignation of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, one of the Catholic Church's most vocal and outspoken advocates of human rights and social justice in the Philippines.
Cruz actually tendered his resignation or early retirement two years ago, but Pope Benedict XVI refused to act on it, until Tuesday.
His retirement was announced about a month before he turns 75, the mandatory age of retirement for bishops. Cruz turns 75 on November 17.
A former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Cruz will be replaced by Bishop Socrates Villegas, whose present bishopric is in Balanga, Bataan.
Villegas, by virtue of his new assignment, will soon be promoted as archbishop.
Rome announced the changing of the guards noon on Tuesday (6 p.m. in Manila time).
The retirement of Cruz is one less thorn on the side of President Arroyo. The archbishop is one of the most vocal critics of the administration with respect to its alleged rampant graft and corruption.
Cruz is also critical of Arroyo’s failure to stop jueteng, an illegal numbers game that victimizes the poor in the countryside.
Schooled in the old-style of learning, Cruz was previously one of the more typical bishops whose ministry was limited to teaching the gospel. But his apolitical views changed after he was elected as head of the influential CBCP.
From a largely ignored institution and overshadowed by the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, Cruz transformed the CBCP into an influential body.
He led the collegial body of bishops in making a mark on political developments in the country. It was during his term as CBCP president that attempts to tinker with the 1987 Charter was first initiated by then President Ramos. The Church put its entire weight against charter change, prompting Ramos to make a hasty retreat.
It was also during his term as CBCP president that he took an aggressive stance against jueteng. The move may have been prescient: jueteng, and the corruption associated with it, later triggered the ouster of President Joseph Estrada.
He had hoped that Estrada’s successor, President Arroyo, would finally put a stop to the illegal numbers game, but Arroyo refused to lift a finger. The final straw came when Arroyo snubbed the launching of the nationwide campaign against jueteng that Cruz organized.
While he may have evolved liberal views on politics, Cruz is still a conservative at heart. A canon law expert, he remained one of the old vanguards of the faith. He was among the harshest critics of Catholic priest and Pampanga Governor Eddie “Among’ Panlilio for joining politics and setting aside his priestly vocation.
In March 2007, Cruz submitted his resignation, or two years before the mandatory retirement. In wanting to hang his priestly robe earlier than scheduled, Cruz said he wanted to turn over his duties to younger bishops.
In a statement issued to the CBCP media office, Cruz said he was grateful to the clergy, the religious and the laity “for being patient with me and understanding.”
He said the clergy, religious and laity “were able to bear with me for about two decades, and that is to their credit.”
Cruz said “the first thought that came to my mind upon knowing of the change of my ecclesiastical status is to thank the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.”
He added: “The reason is it’s her birth anniversary today.”
Born in 1974, Archbishop Cruz was ordained priest at the age of 27 or last February 10, 1962. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Manila on March 4, 1976 and was considered one of the Sin’s early protégés.
In July 5, 1991, he was named archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan.
Cruz said he is happy that his successor, Bishop Villegas, is another Sin protégé.
“If I were to be asked what other immediate things come to my mind: first, I am very proud of my clergy, and second, I am very happy with my forthcoming successor, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, whom I know to be a man of integrity and competence,” he said.
At 48, Bishop Villegas will soon become the country’s youngest archbishop.
Next Manila archbishop?
Along with Archbishop Cruz last year, Bishop Villegas joined other bishops in declaring “that the time for a new government is now.” They strongly condemned corruption in government that, they said, had become “endemic, massive, systemic and rampant in our politics.”
The others who called for radical reforms were CBCP President and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, Masbate Bishop Joel Baylon, and Legazpi Bishop-Emeritus Jose Sorra.
Villegas was born on September 28, 1960 in Manila and was ordained to the priesthood on October 5, 1985. He was appointed Bishop in July 25, 2001.
On August 31, 2001, he was ordained Bishop. He was Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and Rector of Mary Queen of Peace, Our Lady of EDSA Shrine from December 8, 1989 to May 2004.
He was later appointed Bishop of Balanga in May 3, 2004 and was installed July 3, 2004.
His mentor Sin had predicted that, just like him, Villegas would one day become a Cardinal of the archdiocese of Manila.