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.
The killing of three priests over the last six months — of Fr. Marcelito Paez last December, 2017, Fr. Mark Ventura in April, and Fr. Richmond Nilo this June — has provoked both outrage as well as fears that it is part of the Duterte regime’s campaign to silence its critics.
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.
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.
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.