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Vatican replaces Puerto Rico bishop who alleges persecution

March 9, 2022 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The bishop of the Arecibo diocese in Puerto Rico said Wednesday that the Vatican dismissed him against his wishes, a rare move for the Holy See.

The announcement comes nearly a year after Monsignor Daniel Fernández declined to sign a decree issued by the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference declaring that unvaccinated parishioners would be separated from vaccinated ones during activities including the presentation of bread and wine at the altar.

The Episcopal Conference also suggested that unvaccinated parishioners avoid other in-person church activities until further notice.

“We’re taking this measure for your own safety, and for that of priests, religious people and also relatives and parishioners,” the Aug. 24, 2021, decree stated.

Days before the decree was signed, Fernández issued a statement noting, among other things, that “it is legitimate for a faithful Catholic to have doubts about the safety and efficacy of a vaccine.”

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Pope Francis has been a vigorous champion of vaccines, describing them as a way to protect others as well as oneself against COVID-19.

Fernández did not specify the reason for his substitution in a lengthy statement but said that he felt “blessed to suffer persecution and slander,” adding that “God is my judge.”

He said he was never formally accused of anything nor faced any kind of process.

Fernández added that he was informed that he had not committed any crime but that he allegedly “had not been obedient to the Pope nor had he had sufficient communion with my brother bishops of Puerto Rico.”

A spokesman for the Vatican did not respond to a request for comment, while a spokeswoman for the Arecibo Diocese declined comment. The office of Puerto Rico’s archbishop issued a statement calling the dismissal “painful news” and urged people to pray, while the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference said in a statement that it was “such a painful moment” for the Arecibo diocese.

“Out of deference and respect for the internal canonical processes of the Church, these will be the only official expressions that will be made,” it said.

Fernández said that a person he did not identify suggested that if he resigned, he would remain at the service of the Catholic Church if they needed him for anything. He declined.

“I did not resign because I did not want to become an accomplice in a completely unjust action,” he wrote, adding: “I express my communion in the Catholic faith, with the Pope and my brothers in the episcopate, despite my perplexity at an incomprehensible arbitrariness.”

Fernández had served as bishop for nearly 12 years. The Vatican said it had appointed an apostolic administrator from the same diocese, Monsignor Álvaro Corrada del Río, retired bishop of Mayaguez, to replace Fernández.