MANILA, Sept. 8, 2009— One of the consistent critics of the Arroyo administration has retired and has been replaced by another government critic.
The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI had agreed to Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s retirement as archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan.
An outspoken advocate of democracy, the archbishop has been a vocal champion of human rights and social justice.
During his tenure, the 74-year old prelate criticized the Arroyo government for alleged cases of graft and corruption and for failing to curb “jueteng”, an illegal numbers game.
The archbishop will be succeeded by Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas, former auxiliary bishop to the charismatic Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.
At 48, Bishop Villegas will soon become the country’s youngest archbishop.
Archbishop Cruz’s retirement and the appointment of Bishop Villegas as successor were announced in Vatican 12 noon (6 p.m. local time).
Archbishop Cruz first tendered his resignation in March 2007. He previously said that that he already filed his resignation despite the fact that he was only turning 73 old that year.
The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law sets the age for retirement of bishops at 75 and the prelate is about to reach that age on November 17.
Local media earlier quoted him as saying he planned to concentrate on his advocacies and also as head of matrimonial tribunal of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines after his retirement.
‘Thank the Virgin Mary’
Archbishop Cruz said “the first thought that came to my mind upon knowing of the change of my ecclesiastical status is to thank the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.”
“The reason is it’s her birthday anniversary today,” he said.
The Church official said he is most grateful to the clergy, the religious and the laity in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, “for being very patient with me and understanding.”
He said the clergy, religious and laity “were able to bear with me for about two decades and that is to their credit.”
‘A man of integrity’
Archbishop Cruz was appointed prelate of Lingayen-Dagupan in July 15, 1991 and was installed August 24, 1991.
Born in 1934, Archbishop Cruz was ordained priest at the age of 27 on February 10, 1962. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Manila on March 4, 1976 and as archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan on July 5, 1991.
He also served as CBCP president from 1995 to 1999.
“If I were to be asked what other immediate things come to my mind: first, I am very proud of my clergy and second, I am very happy with my forthcoming successor Archbishop Socrates Villegas whom I know to be a man of integrity and competence,” he said.
Along with Archbishop Cruz last year, Bishop Villegas was among the five bishops who declared that “that the time for a new government is now.” They strongly condemned corruption in government that they said had become “endemic, massive, systemic and rampant in our politics.”
The others who called for radical reforms were CBCP president and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, Masbate Bishop Joel Baylon and Legazpi Bishop-Emeritus Jose Sorra.
The bishop followed the group’s declaration with a statement on Nov. 27, also last year, calling on the faithful to “fight the sin of graft and corruption” and not to leave the solution to corrupt officials.”
Bishop Villegas was born on September 28, 1960 in Manila and was ordained to the priesthood on October 5, 1985. He was appointed Bishop in July 25, 2001.
He was ordained Bishop in August 31, 2001 and became Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and Rector of Mary Queen of Peace, Our Lady of EDSA Shrine from December 8, 1989 to May 2004.
He was later appointed Bishop of Balanga in May 3, 2004 and was installed July 3, 2004.