St Joseph's church priest to leave post after petition fails

Work on St Joseph’s Church’s restoration began in 2012 but stalled when Reverend Michael Teo refused to allow one window (right), bearing the figure of St Catherine, to be dismantled. The other windows in this section of the church have been remo
Work on St Joseph’s Church’s restoration began in 2012 but stalled when Reverend Michael Teo refused to allow one window (right), bearing the figure of St Catherine, to be dismantled. The other windows in this section of the church have been removed. A veteran priest embroiled in a public spat with the Catholic Church leadership here over a $1.2 million restoration project said he will leave his post as instructed. - ST FILE PHOTO: NURIA LING

Move is 'to ensure church does not suffer fallout from argument'

A veteran priest embroiled in a public spat with the Catholic Church leadership here over a $1.2 million restoration project said he will leave his post as instructed.

Reverend Michael Teo, who is in charge of St Joseph's Church in Victoria Street, announced his decision in a statement on Saturday after a petition to review his case was turned down by the Archbishop's Office here.

But Father Teo said he will appeal to Rome, the heart of Catholicism, against the order by Archbishop William Goh.

The 76-year-old said he was given marching orders after he made a police report questioning the stated cost of the project to restore century-old stained glass panels at the church, which is a national monument.

He did not get clearance from the church authorities before going to the police.

He was instructed to move to the Church of St Teresa on Aug 20 and wait there for his next posting.

It is understood that his decision to leave his post is to ensure the church does not suffer for what is an argument between him and the church authorities.

The move will also prevent confusion among the numerous volunteer parishioners on whom to report to.

But the priest made clear that he will continue to perform his duties such as conducting mass and has written to the church authorities on this.

The Archbishop's office confirmed that Father Teo had informed it that he will leave his post.

It added that Father John Bosco Pereira, who was supposed to replace Father Teo as rector, will now serve as administrator of the church, pending Rome's decision.

"Reverend Father John Bosco will oversee the administration of St Joseph's Church until such time when Rome has ruled on Father Teo's appeal," the Archbishop's office said in a statement.

Father Teo, however, said he will not go to St Teresa's Church while waiting for Rome's decision. Instead, he will live with his family members "to regain my composure and restore my personal well-being which has been greatly damaged by recent actions taken against me".

He had told his congregation that he made the police report about possible wrongdoing in relation to the restoration project because his "pleas" to the church authorities "fell on deaf ears".

But the Archbishop's Office said yesterday the police report was not a factor in its decision.

Some Catholics whom The Straits Times spoke to expressed surprise at Father Teo's decision to leave. Said Mr Simon Ho, 55: "I know him to be a strict and responsible man. Perhaps all this has made him very tired and affected him."

Last Wednesday, the National Heritage Board said it may hold back a $532,050 grant for the project, which is due on completion, if there are further delays to the restoration.

vijayan@sph.com.sg