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Philippine diocese probes 'fake' ordination of Vietnamese man

Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long of Vinh says the dimissorial letter read out during the ordination was 'fake'

Ho Huu Hoa (left), a former Vietnamese fortune teller who was jailed for brokering a bribe in 2021 was ordained a Catholic priest in December last year

Ho Huu Hoa (left), a former Vietnamese fortune teller who was jailed for brokering a bribe in 2021 was ordained a Catholic priest in December last year. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: February 20, 2023 10:59 AM GMT

Updated: February 23, 2023 04:53 AM GMT

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines has ordered a probe into allegations that he ordained an unqualified Vietnamese man as a Catholic priest based on false testimonies and fake documents.

Philippine Bishop Precioso Cantillas of Maasin, who ordained John Baptist Ho Huu Hoa a priest last December, admitted that the controversy over the ordination "is truly unfortunate and upsetting."

"We are now taking the necessary steps and procedures which will hopefully help all concerned to be enlightened, and so issues will be clarified," Bishop Cantillas, who also ordained Hoa as a deacon last September, said in a statement on Feb. 17.

The controversy began in February after Catholics in Vietnam objected to Hoa administering sacraments saying he was earlier jailed for bribery and not known to have trained in a seminary.

Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long of Vinh, where Hoa’s parish is based in Vietnam, banned him “from celebrating sacraments and services” in the diocese.

On Feb. 15, the Vinh diocese sent a letter to all priests saying that Bishop Long has also suspended the diocesan chancellor of Father Gerard Nguyen Nam Viet, who testified for Hoa during his ordination in the Philippine diocese.

Father Viet was replaced by Father Paul Nguyen Van Hieu, the letter stated.

Bishop Cantillas said the ordination of Hoa followed the usual canonical procedures, especially the presentation of the dimissorial letter signed by Bishop Long and attested by Father Viet. 

A dimissorial letter is a canonical document that the bishop issues to a Catholic man under his care so that he may be ordained a priest by another bishop. 

In social media posts, several Catholics questioned the worthiness of 38-year-old Hoa.

He was reportedly arrested in 2019 for allegedly helping Phan Van Anh Vu, a former police intelligence colonel, to bribe Lieutenant-General Nguyen Duy Linh to the tune of 5 billion dong (US$220,000) to influence a criminal case against him.

Hoa was released from prison in late 2021, which meant he could not have had the mandatory four years of theology training in a seminary.

Bishop Long in an earlier statement said Hoa failed to present the documents of his ordination. He also said he had not issued or signed any document asking Bishop Cantillas to ordain Hoa.

The dimissorial letter Hoa produced during the ordination “was completely fake,” he said.

Maasin Diocesan chancellor Father Mark Vincent Salang said the diocese received documents, including letters of endorsement and recommendation, certifications and credentials, and thank-you letters signed by reputable clerics in charge of Hoa's priestly formation in Vietnam.

The records included a letter by retired Dominican Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of the dioceses of Ha Tinh and Vinh, who "introduced the matter to our office and the reason for the request,” said the letter issued to Maasin diocese.

The Maasin diocesan letter, however, did not say anything further about the “reason for the request” from Vietnam.

It said after his priestly ordination, Hoa was accompanied by now-removed chancellor Viet and a Vietnamese deacon, who served as a translator.

They met Maasin diocesan officials and petitioned them to admit him to the diocese and Hoa was admitted to the Maasin diocese on Jan. 15.

A Vietnamese priest who did not want to be named said Bishop Cantillas must be held responsible “for the illicit ordination as he totally failed to carry out a full investigation.”

He said the prelate could have verified Father Hoa's background as many Vietnamese priests study and work in the Philippines.

The priest accused the Filipino bishop of causing a great scandal in the Churches in Vietnam and the Philippines.

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