Davao bishop named CBCP head

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles

MANILA — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has named Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, who is said to be close to President Rodrigo Duterte, as its new president, replacing Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, whose term ended Nov. 30.

Born in Maribojoc, Bohol, Valles has been Davao archbishop since May 2012.
A graduate of the Pontificio Ateneo Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, he has been a Catholic priest in Mindanao for the last four decades.

Before the Pope appointed him Davao archbishop in 2012, he became bishop of Kidapawan in 1997 then archbishop of Zamboanga in 2007.

Sources in the clergy said the new CBCP president would likely take a different approach from Villegas, who was openly critical of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

But Villegas said he is confident that the new CBCP leader would be more than capable of steering the group in a time of “unique challenges” to the Catholic Church.

Valles said he envisions a clergy of renewed servant-leaders “who care most especially for the least, the lost and the last.”

He said activities throughout 2018 will be dedicated to the promotion and recognition of priestly and religious vocations.

“We aim towards the integral renewal of the values, mind-sets, behavior and lifestyles of the clergy and consecrated persons,” Valles said in his first pastoral statement.

“It will be a year, too, of revisiting ways of seminary and religious formation and the collaboration with the laity in the work of mission and ministry,” he said.

The new pastoral letter will be read in all Masses on Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent.

Villegas, 57, served as CBCP president for two two-year terms, being elected in 2013 and reelected in 2015.

The outspoken archbishop was a protégé of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who helped mount the 1986 People Power Revolution that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

During his term, Villegas pushed for reforms within the Catholic Church, saying it was “a scandal for a priest to die a rich man.”

He has been openly critical of both former President Benigno Aquino III and Duterte, calling out the former on its controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, and denouncing the latter’s “reign of terror” in poor communities where thousands of drug suspects have been killed.

Father Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, described Villegas as “the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines who did not hesitate to maintain bold positions and to express them with clarity, who was pilloried, maligned, and shamed.”

“Why then is he so frequently bashed? It can only be largely because he touched raw nerves by speaking out on such issues as extrajudicial killings, human rights, and the moral obligations of government,” Aquino said.

“Only the jaundiced will find partisanship in those acts. He was beholden to none; but he was not going to be silenced, because his consecration was sacred to him,” he added.