Priest in row with church leaders

SINGAPORE - A veteran priest in charge of historic St Joseph's Church in Victoria Street is embroiled in a dispute with the Catholic Church leadership here over his sudden removal from his post.

Reverend Michael Teo, 76, told worshippers at a service on Saturday that he had been told to go for making a police report about an ongoing project to restore century-old stained glass panels at the church.

He said he was given marching orders in an Aug 5 decree signed by Archbishop William Goh and the hierarchy's chancellor, Friar John Paul Tan, telling him to move to the Church of St Teresa on Aug 20 and wait there for his next posting.

But Father Teo, rector for the past 12 years, said he believed he had done nothing wrong by making the police report.

He said he intends to appeal to Rome and would await a "final resolution" from there.

Meanwhile, he added, he would stay put at StJoseph's despite the order to go.

The Sunday Times learnt that Archbishop Goh acted because Father Teo disobeyed the orders of previous archbishop Nicholas Chia to lay off the project to restore 72 stained glass panels.

The church is a designated national monument and the restoration job, estimated to cost $1.2 million, is being done with co-funding from the Preservation of Monuments Board and donations from Catholics.

The panels, designed by Italian craftsmen more than 100 years ago and covering over 4,000 sq ft, are believed to be the largest collection of stained glass art in a Catholic church here.

The Sunday Times learnt that although Father Teo initiated the restoration project, former archbishop Chia told him in January this year that he had no more jurisdiction over it.

The priest was also warned then that if he did not comply, he would be removed. Then, in June, Father Teo lodged a report with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) in relation to the project without clearance from current Archbishop Goh.

Police on Saturday confirmed that a report has been made and they are looking into it.

Last week, Archbishop Goh issued the decree informing the priest that he would be removed as rector as of noon on Aug 20.

Reverend John Bosco Pereira, previously in charge of the Church of St Francis Xavier in Serangoon Gardens, has been named the new rector of St Joseph's with oversight of the restoration project.

A clearly upset Father Teo told his congregation on Saturday that his conscience was clear, and he felt he had done no wrong by making a police report.

He said although the stained glass panels had been taken down 11/2 years ago, "work had stopped for a long time" and there were "raised eyebrows and queries", especially from donors.

He said he had tried to get answers from the church authorities but to no avail. Thus he made the police report about "a possible wrongdoing to be investigated".

The Sunday Times understands that church officials, including Archbishop Goh, met lay members of the restoration project and other officials before acting against Father Teo.

Church members expressed sadness and dismay on Saturday at the news of Father Teo's removal, and some felt that the matter could have waited until the police probe was over or the project completed.

Church member Audrey Ho, a parishioner for more than 10 years, said: "Surely there must be some dignity given to the man, he has spent 44 years in the priesthood."

Approached for a comment on what Father Teo told his congregation, a spokesman for Archbishop Goh's office told The Sunday Times last night: "The matter is now with the CAD. We have not been informed of the outcome of their investigations.

"The Archdiocese is guided by Canon Law in its decisions on church administration and the conduct of its personnel."

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