THE CATHOLIC Bishops Conference of the Philippines, in a news conference on Monday, July 9, issued a “Pastoral Exhortation” that addressed, in part, “those in this world who boast of their own wisdom, those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense, those who blaspheme our God as stupid.”
The CBCP message, which also flagged the consequences among the poor of the government campaign against drugs and criminality, was issued before President Rodrigo R. Duterte was scheduled to meet also that Monday afternoon with CBCP president and Davao Archbishop Romulo G. Valles, who presided over the press conference with CBCP vice-president, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David.
Also joining them was Bishop Mylo Vergara, who heads the CBCP’s commission on social communications.
Archbishop Valle and Mr. Duterte subsequently met at Malacañang at 4:00 p.m. and both agreed on “a moratorium on statements about the Church,” according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr.
The statement, as attributed to Archbishop Valles on behalf of the CBCP said in part, “And to those who ridicule our faith, we say with St. Paul, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God’ (1 Cor 1:27-29).”
The statement also said: “In these times of darkness, when there’s so much hatred and violence, when murder has become an almost daily occurrence, when people have gotten so used to exchanging insults and hurting words in the social media, we admonish the faithful to remain steadfast in our common vocation and mission to actively work for peace.”
The statement added further: “How are we to deal with fellow ‘Christians’ who see nothing wrong about the killings, who just laugh when our God is blasphemed, and who take part in passing on fake news?”
“There will always be those among us who profess the faith in Christ but are so easily seduced by the empty promises of Satan. Remember him who once sold the master for 30 pieces of silver because he had allowed himself to be mastered by Satan? St. Paul is right in saying, ‘… there have to be divisions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may become known’ (ESV 1 Cor 11:19),” the statement also said.
“Our sufferings as Church leaders are nothing compared to the sufferings of the poor in our country. Do we not hear the cry of poor slum-dwellers being jailed for “loitering”? Have they forgotten that for the homeless urban poor — the little alleys between their flimsy homes also serve as kitchens, bathrooms, recreation spaces, and playgrounds for their children?”
“Do we not feel the sufferings of drug addicts who are labelled as ‘non-humans,’ and are stigmatized as criminals when their names end up in the dreaded ‘drug watch lists’?”
“Do we not care about the misery of people charged of drug-related offenses and packed like sardines in extremely congested jails? Can we even bear the thought of seeing most of them languishing in jail, knowing that rehabilitation is what many of them need?”
The CBCP also said that it “humbly admits” that it is a Church of “sinners called to conversion and holiness at the same time.”
“We bow in shame when we hear of abuses being committed by some of our fellow Church leaders — especially those ordained to ‘act in the person of Christ’. We hold ourselves accountable for their actions, and accept our duty to correct them — as duly mandated by our own higher authorities in the universal Church. We humbly admit that we have many weaknesses and shortcomings, human as we are. We have no reason to justify our weaknesses on the basis of our participation in the human condition, because we profess faith in the God who embraced the human condition, precisely to set a new template of humanity in his son Jesus Christ,” the statement also said.
The statement said further: “There are those who accuse us of getting involved in political moves to destabilize the government. Nothing can be farthest from the truth. Our concern is never the establishment of any earthly kingdoms. Worldly kingdoms come and go. We work only for God’s kingdom which is beyond this world — so that we can start learning to live life “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). For the times in our history when we fell into the temptation of working for political power, we can only bow in shame and say, never again!”
“The Church respects the political authority, especially of democratically-elected government officials, as long as they do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as respect for the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation, and the inherent dignity of the human person,” the statement said.
Sought for comment about the CBCP statement, University of the Philippines (UP) law professor Antonio G.M. La Viña said, “I think the CBCP has to stand up for what it stands for [and] what it believes in….But the real scandal for me is that the crimes against humanity are being committed around us, with the poor as the victim. The Church has to stand up to that, and I am glad that they did if that is the language they used, which is clearly a very strong statement to me.”
He added: “And it’s good because the person who leads the CBCP is the archbishop of Davao who knows Duterte very well. This is not something personal. It’s based on objective facts on the ground, and bishops have to respond to the objective facts on the ground. It actually doesn’t matter whether they like it or not. What really matters is it’s a fact on the ground, where there are thousands of people getting killed.”
On whether the statement calls to mind the Catholic Church’s engagement in national issues during the time of the late Manila Archbishop Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, Mr. La Viña said, “It’s a different time. It’s a different situation. It’s like comparing oranges and apples….Marcos era was a different era and with different challenges. But the values are the same: the value of human life, the importance of respect in language, the veneration of God–these are all universal and timeless. In that sense, they are the same.”
“[But] If you are asking me if bishops are calling for the withdrawal of the people’s support for the government, [the answer is] no… But what’s remarkable is that they are able to come to this quickly, a couple of years after the President took office. I would say also, (it’s) unprecedented kasi yung (because) people who are dying, the language of the President is also unprecedented.”
Mr. La Viña also noted in part, “The reason why the President keeps on talking like this is that people applaud him. If people are not clapping or applauding, if people are actually walking out, he will no longer say those things.” — Arjay L. Balinbin