ARECIBO, Puerto Rico (LifeSiteNews) — A bishop removed from his diocese by Pope Francis last year after opposing COVID vaccine mandates is speaking out about his widely criticized dismissal.
Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres broke months of silence with a statement on Thursday marking one year since “being ‘removed’ from my pastoral service as bishop of my beloved diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.”
“I still feel the same perplexity that I felt when I was suddenly asked to resign and when, in a hasty way, the removal was carried out,” he wrote in a letter addressed to “all those who have been accompanying me spiritually.”
“After one year, I reaffirm exactly the same words of the public statement that I made on March 9, 2022,” he added. “In this time, I have discovered the meaning of witnessing the beatitudes rather than preaching them.”
In his March 2022 statement, the Arecibo bishop decried Pope Francis’ removal of him as “a totally unjust action.”
“No process has been made against me,” he said at the time, “nor have I been formally accused of anything, and simply one day the apostolic delegate verbally communicated to me that Rome was asking me to resign.”
“I was informed that I had committed no crime but that I supposedly ‘had not been obedient to the pope nor had I been in sufficient communion with my brother bishops of Puerto Rico,’” the prelate further explained. “It was suggested to me that if I resigned from the diocese I would remain at the service of the Church in case at some time I was needed in some other position; an offer that in fact proves my innocence.”
“A successor of the Apostles is now being replaced without even undertaking what would be a due canonical process to remove a parish priest.”
The bishop’s new letter emphasizes his grief at being deposed from his see but urges Catholics outraged by scandals in the Church to “pray and trust.”
“When I entered the Seminary in 1990, I did so full of hope and convinced that God called me to serve the Church for the rest of my life. But suddenly … ‘the plot is cut off’ and I am ‘removed,’” he wrote, quoting the Canticle of King Hezekiah. “Hence, I can make my own those words of the Canticle, which Saint John Paul II brilliantly commented on in one of his catecheses.”
He cited St. John Paul II’s February 2002 general audience on the Canticle of King Hezekiah, in which the Holy Father stressed that God responds to the prayers of the suffering “although not always in ways that coincide with what we expect”:
The Lord is not indifferent to the tears of the one who suffers, and he responds, consoles and saves, although not always in ways that coincide with what we expect. It is what Hezekiah confesses at the end, encouraging all to hope, to pray, to have confidence, with the certainty that God will not abandon his creatures: “The Lord is our saviour; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life” (v. 20).
“This is my invitation to all those who have accompanied me in pain for the Church, which is scandalized by some current events, including the personal outrage from which I try to continue serving it: wait, pray and trust,” Bishop Fernández Torres wrote.
“With this simple reflection I want to express my gratitude to God and to all those who have prayed for me and have expressed their support and closeness to me during this time and that there have been so many who have done so,” he concluded. “I have received all of this convinced that they are undeserved divine consolations.”
Pope ignores massive backlash
Pope Francis abruptly “relieved” Bishop Fernández Torres of the pastoral care of his diocese in March 2022 without bringing formal charges against him or even giving an explanation.
The move sparked widespread criticism and a series of protests and prayer vigils in support of the bishop, who was revered by Puerto Rican Catholics and non-Catholics alike. A petition launched by LifeSiteNews calling for his reinstatement reached nearly 15,000 signatures, and another online petition topped 11,000 signatures.
Bishop Fernández Torres was for years the only Catholic prelate on the island who regularly stood up for life, family, and religious freedom, as LifeSite reported, and served as “a moral reference for the entire country,” in the words of one Puerto Rican senator.
“Through him, a unity of purpose was achieved for the protection of human life in Puerto Rico, for the protection of the natural family in the country, for the protection of fundamental human rights of the human being,” Sen. Joanne Rodríguez Veve said.
In a blistering statement denouncing the bishop’s removal, Archbishop Hector Aguer, archbishop emeritus of Plata, Argentina, described him as “a man of God, faithful to the great ecclesial Tradition.”
“A couple of years ago I was invited by Bishop Daniel to preach the Spiritual Exercises to the clergy of the diocese. I was then able to see how a particular Church flourishes when its bishop is a man of God, faithful to the great ecclesial Tradition,” he recalled. “But that does not interest Rome.”
Amigos de Monseñor Daniel, a lay group that advocates for Bishop Fernández Torres, said in a press release last week that it collected more than 30,000 letters and signatures supporting him but that the Vatican has “never answered” them.
The group lamented that “despite the Pope’s call to listen to the voice of the laymen and give them participation in the Church, their letters were never answered, nor was interest shown in listening to them or receiving them in Rome.”
The brutal treatment of the Puerto Rican bishop is “not compatible with the call made by Pope Francis to a synodal and merciful Church, nor is it a reflection of authentic Christian conduct,” the lay group added.
Removed for defending conscience
While the Vatican has declined to give a reason for Pope Francis’ dismissal of Bishop Fernández Torres, his decision was reportedly due in large part to the bishop’s defense of conscience objections to vaccine mandates.
The apostolic delegate of Puerto Rico demanded Bishop Fernández Torres’ resignation after he refused to sign a letter issued by the island’s episcopal conference announcing a strict jab mandate for priests and employees, according to ACI Prensa. The letter, which also imposed segregation at Mass based on jab status, echoed Francis’ claim that taking the shots is a “moral duty.”
Bishop Fernández Torres had released a separate statement days earlier defending the right to refuse vaccination on the basis of conscience, insisting that “it is possible for a faithful Catholic to have conscientious objection to the alleged mandatory nature of the Covid-19 vaccine.” His letter reflected the positions of numerous other prelates and the Vatican’s own doctrinal note on COVID vaccines, which states that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”
But his support of conscience rights nevertheless led to his removal, according to ACI Prensa.
All COVID jabs approved for use in the U.S. were developed or tested with cell lines derived from aborted babies, who were likely aborted alive before having their organs harvested. The injections have been linked to serious side effects, including heart inflammation and fertility problems, as well as thousands of deaths, and do not stop transmission of COVID.
Archbishop Roberto González Nieves of San Juan has said that Bishop Fernández Torres was removed “solely” due to alleged “insubordination to the Pope,” without citing any specific incidents.
In a canonical brief to the Vatican, Bishop Fernández Torres alleged that several Puerto Rican bishops agitated for his removal due to his letter on vaccination, in addition to his initial hesitance to send seminarians to an interdiocesan seminary in Puerto Rico and controversy over a lawsuit regarding pension obligations of the Archdiocese of San Juan, The Pillar reported.
“The facts demonstrate that a bishop or some bishops did not like Bishop Fernández’s legitimate position on vaccines, the interdiocesan seminary, and the civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of San Juan, and in an effort to eliminate him, they angled to have him removed, but because there are no legitimate reasons, nothing was put in writing, only verbal,” the brief stated.
“Bishop Fernández has always been obedient to the Roman Pontiff. There is no record of disobedience. There is no record of Bishop Fernández questioning the authority of the Supreme Pontiff or the exercise of the same,” the document asserted.
The brief specifically accused Archbishop Nieves, a dissident, pro-LGBT liberal, of orchestrating his dismissal.
In another letter in 2021 to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, then the prefect for the Dicastery of Bishops, Bishop Fernández Torres described his defense of conscience rights as “the touchstone that sets off all this controversy.”
Priests in the Diocese of Arecibo have also said that Cardinal Blase Cupich, the heterodox, far-left archbishop of Chicago, visited the diocese in 2021 and may have been involved in the removal of Bishop Fernández Torres.
Pope Francis appointed Alberto Arturo Figueroa Morales, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Juan, as the new bishop of Arecibo in September 2022. He was installed the following month.
The pope has yet to take action against German bishops who voted in favor of heretical documents endorsing same-sex “blessings” and transgender ideology earlier this month as part of the German “Synodal Way.”