Francis, the Bishop of Rome, has “accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, presented by Bishop Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, upon having reached the age limit” of 75.
Pakiam celebrated his 75th birthday on 6 December, and in accordance with Church law (Canon 401), submitted his resignation on the same day.
The Bishop of Rome accepted the resignation letter on 13 December, according to Vatican News. Pakiam had served as Archbishop of the KL Diocese since 2003, succeeding Soter Fernandez.
Canon 401 (1) states: “A diocesan bishop who has completed the seventy-fifth year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provision after he has examined all the circumstances.”
In practice, the Bishop of Rome may decide to immediately accept the resignation letter or, as is often the case, keep the bishop in service until a successor is chosen.
The Archbishop of KL, the publisher of the Herald, spearheaded a legal suit against the government over the prohibition on the use of the word Allah in the weekly – a case which hit global headlines.
Pakiam was also present at a meeting between Pope Benedict and Prime Minister Najib in 2011, which paved the way for the Vatican to normalise diplomatic ties and open a diplomatic office in Malaysia. But close to 400 Catholics and other Christians in Malaysia signed a letter to the Pope ahead of the meeting complaining about the Najib administration’s human rights record.
More recently, Pakiam, who was awarded the honorific title Tan Sri in 2008, sought the intervention of the BN MP for Tuaran, Wilfred Tangau, who successfully managed to secure the release of 2000 copies of the Herald that had been held back at Kota Kinabalu Airport. (The Herald had reported on the outcome of the Allah verdict by the Court of Appeal.)
In reporting on Pakiam’s resignation, fz.com mentioned a controversial development in the Archdiocese of KL:
His decision to shut down Cahayasuara Communications Centre (CCC), the 46-year-old communications institutional arm of the Catholic Church was seen as a last ditch attempt at reigning in renegade laymen who speak out against social injustice and certain government policies. They are also seen as being “anti-establishment”. And that includes against the Government.
Two staff who were let go in the Sept 30 closure and termination have filed a wrongful dismissal action at the Industrial Relations Department.
Previously, the church’s social justice arm, the influential National Office for Human Development, was also shut down and its responsibilities and fund-raising taken over by offices for human development in the respective dioceses in the country such as the KL Archdiocesan Office for Human Development.
Meanwhile, relations between the local church hierarchy and certain segments of the Catholic religious orders, some of whom work with marginalised groups and have their own autonomous rules and structures, have been testy at times.
The present Bishop of Rome, who unusually comes from a religious order (the Jesuits) and has adopted the name Francis after the 12th century founder of various religious orders (the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis) working in solidarity with the poor, has called for the church to become a church of the poor and to reach out to the marginalised beyond parish walls.