- Published on Wednesday, 09 January 2013 00:00
- Written by A.G. ROMUALDEZ
By A Web design Company
‘Avoiding the use of extremist language and the exclusivist rhetoric of fundamentalists should start the Catholic Church in the Philippines along the path toward relevance in the 21st century.’
Last week, this column referred to a chapter in the opening volume of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” describing the encounter between a bishop and a dying old revolutionary.
To further illustrate the relevance of this encounter to the discussions within the Filipino Catholic community concerning the repercussions of R.A. 10354 or the Reproductive Health Act, below is a portion of the conversation that begins with an assertion by the old revolutionist:
“‘I voted for the death of the tyrant – ignorance. That tyrant engendered royalty, which is authority falsely understood, science is authority rightly understood. Man should be governed only by science.’
“‘And conscience,’ added the Bishop.
“‘It is the same thing. Conscience is the innate science which we have within us.’
“Monseigneur Bienvenu (the bishop) listened in some astonishment to this language, which was very new to him.”
Most Filipino Catholics, including those who strongly supported RH legislation in the face of strong opposition by the hierarchy, look forward to transforming the shrill acrimonious debates into a calmer rational dialogue on the role of the Church in Filipino society.
For this to happen, participants need to find language that moves them from protagonists in a fight to participants in a common effort. This can happen only if the dominant voices come from moderates on either side of the different issues that are likely to be raised.
Language such as that used by some bishops who view continued opposition to RH as a “fight” to prevent corruption of the “mind of the youth” are unhelpful in bridging a growing gap between the mindsets of conservative hierarchy and the perceptions of a majority of Filipinos, particularly the growing numbers of educated young people.
The same is also true about unfounded assertions that “the ready availability of contraceptives had resulted in promiscuity, premarital sex and extramarital affairs”.
The archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Tagle, impliedly referred to this hierarchy-youth gap when he told a synod about a young girl who said, “Are we, the youth, lost or has the Church lost us?” In the same article in a Catholic publication, the young cardinal went on to stress the need for “humility, among other things” in the effort to bring the Word of God to a “seemingly indifferent and aimless” world.
Dialogue between moderates within the Church, avoiding the use of extremist language and the exclusivist rhetoric of fundamentalists, should start the Catholic Church in the Philippines along the path toward relevance in the 21st century.
To be sure there are many issues that require intense discussions in order to bridge the wide chasm between liberals and conservatives. There are many difficult and complex questions that will demand open-mindedness, understanding, and moderation on both sides of each issue.
Divorce in the Philippines, having been mentioned as a possibility by a number of political figures, appears to be one such issue. Because it has to do with the integrity of families, it may also be considered as an extension of the reproductive health debates. There is a need to make sure that discussions are informed by accurate and well-established data analyzed according accepted scientific principles. Certainly, international experience is plentiful and should be considered in the divorce dialogues in a world where all but two country-states (the Philippines and the Vatican) allow divorce. The coming election campaigns that will determine the character of the Philippine Congress for the next three years may be a good starting point.
Another issue less clearly linked to reproductive health but certainly as contentious, has to do with improving the participatory nature of policy-making processes within the Church. The role of women (particularly women religious) and the laity (especially the poor majority) certainly needs to be discussed even as throughout the Church there have been strong official efforts to stifle their voices. In the Philippines, where the Church has long been allied to colonial powers, the voice of the masses is practically non-existent even as evidence of administrative improprieties keeps turning up. In this context, perhaps it is time for the Catholic Church to reform its monarchical structures in favor of modern democratic processes.
Administrative wrongdoing within the Church has also been cited as one of the factors in the on-going disputes regarding clerical sexual abuse. In places like Germany, the United States, and Ireland, where the laity have raised their voices, bishops are under severe pressure to discontinue existing cover-up policies that have allowed abusive priests to go unpunished for years. Here in the Philippines, the hierarchy has steadfastly maintained a low profile approach to abuse by claiming that occurrences are isolated and rare.
Yet another controversial topic is the celibacy requirement for priesthood. The fact is that the Catholic Church has accepted married priests who convert from the Anglican tradition to discharge priestly functions in the Catholic context. This is certainly an indication that the celibacy requirement is, in a manner of speaking, a “soft requirement” that may be modified in accordance with modern circumstances.
All these disputatious subjects need to be resolved in a context that is beneficial to Philippine society as a whole. Imposition of particular views through authoritative pronouncements no longer serves this purpose. Instead reasoned discourse that allows exposition of several positions informed by faith and reason as well as science and conscience must take place.