Philippines’ ‘healing priest’ found not guilty of sex abuse

The Vatican has found a popular Filipino “healing priest” not guilty of allegations that he sexually abused minors.

A decree of notification released by the National Tribunal of Appeals of the Philippine bishops conference said Father Fernando Suarez was found “not guilty” of the accusation lodged against him.

The announcement said allegations of “sexual abuse of minors” were submitted to the Vatican on May 8, 2019.

“This means that he has been falsely accused of these crimes and, therefore, nothing now stands in the way for him to exercise his healing ministry,” read the notification.

It added, however, that Father Suarez can only practice his “healing ministry” as long as it is “done properly in coordination with the ecclesiastical authority of every ecclesiastical jurisdiction.”

A copy of the “Decree of Notification” was posted by the Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor, which was established by Father Suarez, on social media on Jan. 10.

Bishop Antonio Tobias, judicial vicar of the Philippine tribunal, signed the notification decree on Jan. 6.

It read: “By order of the Most Rev. Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and titular archbishop of Cerveteri, in his letter of Dec. 13, 2019 — I was instructed to notify the Rev. Father Fernando M. Suarez of the apostolic vicariate of San Jose de Occidental Mindoro of the decree of ‘not guilty’ of the accusation lodged against him of sexual abuse of minors which this National Tribunal of Appeals submitted to Rome on May 8, 2019.”

Last year, several dioceses in the country barred the “healing priest” from performing his activities for failure to present the necessary permit from local church leaders.

Bishop Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay reported that Father Suarez had been conducting “healing Masses” without the necessary permit from the diocese.

In October last year, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao banned the priest from celebrating Mass and administering sacraments in the diocese until the allegations leveled at him were cleared.

Church policies require a priest who wishes to celebrate Mass outside of his diocese to present an endorsement from his local bishop.

Also known as celebret, the endorsement would confirm that a priest is in good standing in his own diocese or religious congregation.

In the past, several bishops had banned Father Suarez from holding “healing Masses” in their dioceses.

Born in 1967, in the village of Butong in Taal town, Batangas province, Father Suarez went to Manila and graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Adamson University.

After college, he entered the Franciscan Order but left more than a year later. He joined the Society of the Divine Word but was asked to leave after six months.

He joined the Companions of the Cross, a Canadian congregation founded in the 1980s, and has stayed with them since. He was ordained in 2002.

Father Suarez’s reported gift of healing first became known abroad and later in the Philippines, where he established the Mary Mother of the Poor Healing Ministry, a foundation to help the poor.

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