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New bishops’ conference chief raises expectations

Role of the body is misunderstood, Malaysian Church source says

Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing
  • ucanews.com reporter, Bangkok & Johor Bahru
  • Malaysia
  • January 5, 2011
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Catholics in Malaysia are hoping Jesuit Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing of Melaka-Johor will take a more active role in social and religious issues during his term as president of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

Many will welcome his two-year term that began on Jan. 1 because under the 70-year-old prelate’s “leadership, the bishops’ conclave is likely to make its presence felt" on major issues of the day, by virtue of his "training and temperament,” Catholic lay writer Terence Netto wrote in Malaysiakini, an online national paper.

In an article titled, Bishop Paul’s Tenure Likely to be Activist, Netto said immediate controversies facing Bishop Tan include Malay-speaking Catholics using the word “Allah” for God and the demand by a prime minister’s aide that crucifixes be removed from a Christmas party at the residence of Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur.

However, Church officials say that people misunderstand the role of the bishops’ conference which does not supersede an individual bishop’s authority over his own diocese.

“The bishops’ conference is a platform for bishops to collaborate. It does not have juridical powers in the way that many people think it does,” a Church source close to Bishop Tan told ucanews.com.

Although the bishop may not cohere with popular expectations, the source did not dismiss the possibility of Bishop Tan taking action “if a certain issue needs a response.”

Permanent Deacon Sherman Kuek of Melaka-Johor diocese, called the Malaysiakini article “unjustified,” as the writer “does not understand the role of the bishops’ conference.”

Bishop Tan is the only one among the 12 active prelates in the bishops’ conference with a Religious background.

He was a founder of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism in 1983.

As a priest, Bishop Tan was often outspoken on Christian community and inter-religious.

Related reports
Malaysian bishop sets out focus for faithful
Bishop: Church must stand up for its rights

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