Cleared in sex abuse case, healing priest wants bishops to lift ban

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 14 2020 12:31 PM

Healing priest Fernando Suarez speaks to ABS-CBN News. Suarez said a Vatican investigation cleared him of wrongdoing. Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA -- A Filipino priest, known for his supposed ability to heal and even raise people from the dead, said bishops should now lift their ban, citing the Vatican’s findings that he was “not guilty” of sexually abusing minors.

Fr. Fernando Suarez, 53, said there was no more reason to prevent him from practicing his healing ministry in at least 4 dioceses that earlier shut their doors on him and members of his Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor (MMP).

He said many other bishops had not allowed him in their dioceses since the complaint was lodged more than 5 years ago.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), last December, ruled that Suarez had been “falsely accused” of sexual abuse, according to a decree of notification signed by Bishop Antonio Tobias, who heads the Philippine Catholic Church’s National Tribunal of Appeals.

“Nothing now stands in the way for him to exercise his healing ministry, provided it is done properly in coordination with the ecclesiastical authority of every ecclesiastical jurisdiction,” Tobias wrote on Jan. 6, citing the order by Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the CDF.

ABS-CBN News could not reach Tobias. But Suarez provided a copy of the document and described the ruling as “a big redemption on my part.”

LIFT BAN

“They should lift my ban,” Suarez told ABS-CBN News, referring to dioceses where he was barred — Cubao, Lingayen-Dagupan, Malolos, and Malaybalay.

“Kung alam mo lang (If you only knew) what I went through,” he added, citing the “ordeal of mental torture, calumny, gossips, especially among... bishops and priests.”

It was not clear why the 4 dioceses kept him away.

But aside from the case, there were also issues raised about his incardination (attachment to a diocese), ABS-CBN News learned.

Every cleric is required under canon law to be “incardinated either in a particular church or personal prelature, or in an institute of consecrated life or society endowed with this faculty, in such a way that unattached or transient clerics are not allowed at all.”

A decree of notification signed by Bishop Antonio Tobias, head of the Philippine Catholic Church’s National Tribunal of Appeals, shows the "not guilty" verdict by a Vatican body on healing priest Fernando Suarez. Photo courtesy of Fr. Fernando Suarez

Suarez was incardinated to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro under then Bishop Antonio Palang on March 31, 2011, said Bishop William Antonio, the current administrator of the apostolic vicariate.

“For a priest to exercise ministry in another territory, he needs the permission of the bishop of the place. For one reason or another, the bishop may not allow a priest to exercise ministry in his territory,” Antonio told ABS-CBN News.

“I cannot give you more information on his case because there are aspects beyond my power and authority,” he added, pointing instead to Tobias who handled the case.

Suarez said he later moved (excardinated or released to a new diocese) and was incardinated to the Diocese of Tagum in 2017. “Never in my life na wala akong diocese (that I did not have a diocese),” he said.

‘POWER PLAY’

Suarez said the sexual abuse case was triggered by a complaint from a sacristan and his friend in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Details of the case were kept strictly confidential under church rules.

Both the Vatican ruling and Tobias’ letter did not say why Suarez had been exonerated. Suarez said his 2 accusers had recanted their statements.

Suarez said there appeared to be "someone behind" the complaint, adding that it might have had something to do with a "power play." He did not elaborate.

“Parang pina-project. Parang may crusade against me. (It's as if I was targeted, like there was a crusade against me.)”

It remains to be seen if his exoneration can also help put to rest other controversies surrounding his healing ministry.

RAISING THE DEAD

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz earlier questioned Suarez’s supposed “gift” to bring dead people back to life, telling this reporter in a previous interview that only Jesus Christ could do that.

Suarez said he never actually saw for himself the dead rise right after a healing session.

He said he was only told of such stories afterward by witnesses, such as this doctor whose patient suffered a cardiac arrest but supposedly came back to life around 5 years ago. 

“Meron din ako sa Canada na tatanggalin na ang mga mata e. E pri-nay over ko. Nabuhay din,” said Suarez, who claimed to have sprung “3 to 4” people back to life as told by various witnesses.

(There was this case in Canada, whose eye was about to be taken out. The person came back to life after my pray-over.)

EXTRAVAGANT

A number of priests spoke with ABS-CBN News, pointing to Suarez’s supposed image within church circles as one with an “extravagant lifestyle” and many rich and powerful friends.

“I don’t think my lifestyle is extravagant," said Suarez, who's known to wear simple clothes according to a fellow priest.

Suarez said he was aware of criticism of his healing ministry, the worst being that his gift “came from the devil and I’m making money out of it.”

“Paano ko to pagka-kwartahan? Eh lahat ng collection, iniiwan ko sa simbahan. Kung gusto nyo, 'wag na lang mag-collection,” he said.

(How can I earn money off it? All collections, I leave in the church. If you want, I'll stop collections.)

During the interview on Monday, Suarez described Ramon Ang, head of food and infrastructure conglomerate San Miguel Corp, as a friend.

Suarez said Ang recounted how tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. had been “healed” after the priest prayed over him before.

The priest said he usually made friends afterward with those who benefited from his healing ministry, but did not seek them out. Many of them happened to be wealthy, raising eyebrows among his fellow priests.

“Hindi ko naman kasalanan na maging kaibigan ko sila. Mabubuti rin naman silang mga tao... nangangailangan rin sila ng spirituality,” he said, describing them as “good, real friends” until now.

(It's not my fault that they're my friends. They're good people too... who also need spirituality.)

“I have lots of friends, rich and poor alike.”

TENNIS

Among priests, he organizes a yearly tournament in the Philippines called “Fr. Fernando Suarez Tennis Cup,” which is also staged in countries like Poland, attracting participants from at least 15 nations.

Proceeds went to poor parishes, he said.

An avid tennis player, Suarez acknowledged that he regularly watches international tournaments such as the French Open.

But he said he began doing so only after he “healed” an international tennis official, who eventually converted to Catholicism and has since been covering expenses for such trips.

“Ever since, libre nya. Sya ang sumasagot,” he said. “Yung iba naman, may mga kaibigan ako sa abroad.”

(It's been free ever since. The official shoulders the cost. For the other trips, I have friends abroad.)