Offender of the faith

Rodrigo Duterte and Archbishop Romulo Valles
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Before Rodrigo Duterte, no Philippine president, as morally-challenged as some of them may have been, had ever disparaged Catholicism and Christianity, much less cursed the God Christians, Muslims and Jews worship in common. Even Ferdinand Marcos, to whose overthrow in 1986 both the institutional Church as well as its activists contributed, did not take that path, although among the victims of his terrorist regime were nuns, priests, pastors and other religious workers.

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Duterte takes on the fifth estate

Rody Duterte (AKP Images/Keith Bacongco )
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It’s not just rare, it’s practically unheard of for any Filipino politician to be critical of the Catholic Church, much less to call its bishops names. Soliciting its support during and after elections; maintaining a respectful silence even when they disagree with its bishops’ pronouncements; meekly nodding their heads in submission; providing bishops SUVs for “missionary work” and other favors; and even outright approval of Church collaboration with dictatorship, have been the most common forms of politician and government engagement with the Church—to which they’re likely to belong, anyway, 80 percent of Filipinos being Catholic.

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Our father

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IN RESPONSE to the Bacolod diocese’s hanging up a streamer urging voters to reject those candidates for the Senate whom it referred to as “Team Patay” (The Death Team) for voting for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10354), or the RH bill, a text message supposedly from a group called Buklod ng Malayang Pilipino (Unity of Free Filipinos) has accused five priests of the diocese of siring children.

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Fast food faithful

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THE resignation of Joseph Ratzinger from the Papacy won’t please the ultra-conservatives dominant in the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Unless someone like-minded becomes Pope, it will be, for them, one of the most distressing events of all since Pope John XXIII sat on the throne of Peter from 1958 to 1963 and introduced a wave of reforms that among other consequences encouraged the rise of liberation theology and the involvement of nuns and priests in social movements. (Not incidentally was Ratzinger particularly hostile to this part of John XXIII’s legacy.)

The ultra-conservatives recently demonstrated their influence over such secular entities as the country’s courts and its laws (they succeeded in getting tour guide Carlos Celdran convicted of “offending religious feelings” for holding up a placard with the word “Damaso” on it during a church gathering in Manila). They’ve also threatened to campaign against those candidates for the Senate and the House of Representatives who supported, or worse, were among the sponsors of Republic Act No. 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.

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Understanding

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NOT all of them bought Pajeros, a sport utility vehicle ( SUV) manufactured by Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors; some bought even more expensive SUVs and pick-up trucks, and others cheaper Asian utility vehicles (AUVs) with funds from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Erroneously tagged by the media as “the Pajero 7,” some of these bishops of the Catholic Church are asking for “understanding,” in tacit admission that their use of public funds might have been neither legal nor moral.

Some of the country’s bishops also asked for understanding when the world-wide sex scandals involving the clerical abuse of children erupted during the papacy of John Paul II, making this the second time in less than a decade when the allegedly spiritual and moral betters of the Filipino people have asked poor sinners for sympathy.

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Sins of the Padres

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MOST Filipinos who’ve gone to high school or who’re in college know who the “Damaso” in Carlos Celdran’s streamer was, because of Republic Act 1425, the Rizal Law, which requires the teaching of the life and works of Jose Rizal in all Philippine schools, colleges and universities.

Intramuros tour guide Celdran held up his streamer during a mass at the Manila Cathedral while shouting that the Church should keep out of politics. The Catholic Church has ratcheted up its opposition to any reproductive health bill in response to the support for whatever means of family planning couples prefer that President Benigno Aquino III expressed during his US visit. Church spokespersons have threatened to call for civil disobedience among the faithful and at one point suggested that Mr. Aquino could be excommunicated for indirectly supporting abortion.

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Better than nothing

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Question: What do you call people who use the rhythm method?
Answer: Parents.

IT’s an old joke that in the context of the country’s many problems wasn’t funny even when first heard decades ago. Thanks to a reproductive health program that for all practical purposes doesn’t exist, and Catholic Church encouragement of so-called “natural methods,” the Philippine population is growing at the rate of 2.2 percent per year, which compares to Thailand’s and Singapore’s .8 percent and Malaysia’s 1.9 percent.

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Devotion

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Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales criticized the “excessive devotion” of millions of Filipino Catholics to the Black Nazarene. Living lives of simplicity and selflessness, said the Cardinal, would constitute real devotion, rather than the mad rush to get on or near the carriage bearing the statue of the dark Christ so one can kiss the image or wipe it with a handkerchief. Two people died and some 400 were injured in this year’s celebration of the Black Christ’s transfer from the old city of Intramuros to the Quiapo Church nearly 300 years ago.

The Cardinal’s advice to live simply couldn’t have been addressed to a less likely crowd. We can safely assume that only a very, very few, or even none, of the estimated two million devotees that braved the heat and crush of the five kilometer procession from Manila’s Luneta Park to Quiapo Church owned several mansions or fleets of cars, regularly went on vacations in the US to visit Disneyland, or feasted on $20,000 dinners at Le Cirque and Bobby Van’s Steak House.

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The political church

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We could charitably grant that some of them were genuinely grieving. But the attendance of politicians of various stripes, including Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, at the wake and/or interment of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) Executive Minister Erano Manalo was nevertheless a political act.

INC control over 1.5 million “command votes” could make and probably has made the difference between losing and winning at the polls, especially in such closely-contested elections as those of 2004. One survey says some 84 percent of its members vote for candidates endorsed by its leaders, in keeping with the INC doctrine of “religious unity” that the late Manalo once said was “essential to spiritual salvation.”

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