Philippine church to move US priest over sex scandal

MANILA, April 19 (AFP) - Church leaders in the Catholic Philippines said on Monday they would relocate an American priest after they found out he was convicted of sexual misconduct when he was a seminarian in 1988.

Father Joseph Skelton is to be moved from his ministry in central Tagbilaran city where he has served for years to a still undisclosed place, an official at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said.

"The CBCP will issue an official statement on the matter within the next few days," a spokesman for the conference who did not want to be named, told AFP.

The spokesman declined to comment further, but referred AFP to a story published on the conference's official website at the weekend.

That article also said Skelton would be moved, but emphasised he was due for transfer to another assignment within the Tagbilaran diocese before news of the scandal broke.

The website story on the website said the bishops only found out in November that Skelton was convicted of sexual misconduct when he was a seminarian in Detroit, Michigan, in 1988.

"Had I known of his conviction, I would not have ordained him," the website quoted Tagbilaran's former bishop, Leopoldo Tumulak, as saying.

Tumulak served in Tagbilaran from 1992 to 2005, and it was during this period that Skelton was ordained.

Tumulak described Skelton as "happy, contented and very particular in celebrating the liturgy meaningfully and well," the website said.

Skelton has refused to discuss the case, according to the bishops' website, and calls by AFP to the Tagbilaran diocese on Monday went unanswered.

The conference did not give other details about Skelton's background and no explanation was given as to why he was allowed to continue to serve after his history of sexual abuse was uncovered.

Bishop-accountability.org, a US-based non-profit website that tracks sexual abuses in the church, said he resigned from the Michigan seminary in 1988 after pleading guilty to abusing a 15 year-old boy.

The Philippines is Asia's bastion of Catholicism, and details about Skelton past have surfaced amid a string of sexual abuse cases rocking the church.

MySinchew 2010.04.19