Bishop Says He Wouldn't Have Ordained Skelton

By Leslie Ann G. Aquino
Manila Bulletin
April 18, 2010

The bishop who ordained Fr. Joseph Skelton to the priesthood admitted not knowing the latter's conviction of sexual misconduct before his ordination.

"Had I known of his conviction I would not have ordained him," Military Ordinary Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak, said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website.

Fr. Joseph Skelton Jr., an American priest who is now serving as associate pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Calape town of the Diocese of Tagbilaran had been convicted with sexual misconduct in 1988 while still a seminarian in Detroit, Michigan.

Tumulak who served Bishop of Tagbilaran from 1992 until 2005 said he first met Skelton, then a seminarian, under the spiritual care and guidance of Bishop Felix Sanchez Zafra, Tagbilaran's third bishop.

"The late Bishop Zafra introduced him to me simply as a seminarian wanting to become a priest and was a former member of a religious congregation," he said.

Tumulak, however, added that the Diocese of Tagbilaran had observed the prescribed canonical requirements prior to Skelton's ordination.

He even described Skelton as a "happy, contented and very particular in celebrating the liturgy meaningfully and well."

When asked if priests who have committed crimes still deserve a chance to serve the Church, Tumulak said "The answer to the question is better left to the wisdom of the bishop who knows and loves his priest."

Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso, a Canon Law expert, saw nothing wrong with Skelton's ordination to the priesthood.

"He was convicted before he became a priest and he has served his penalty of being under probation for three years," he said.

Medroso said that all cases have prescriptive periods and Skelton's case was a "misdemeanor."

Like Tumulak, Medroso also just recently learned of Fr. Skelton's past only when a Manila-based newspaper published a story last November 2009.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, for his part, said that in cases where the seminarian conceals the crime and was revealed after his ordination to the priesthood, the bishop has two options.

"The bishop can either impose on the priest the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state or ask the priest concerned to seek dispensation from the clerical state," he said.

Cases like these, Cruz said, are then sent to Rome for the final decision.

Skelton's past resurfaced after the issue of sexual abuse scandals by some clergy in Europe and America have spread in the country.

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.