Qualified mea culpa

ALLOW ME to stress that although we look at the clergy with critical eyes, we have all the respect for the Catholic Church and for all religions and beliefs.  We maintain that as public personalities, bishops and priests must not be spared from our collective expressions of rikna and nakem.  We love the church, and that same love causes us pain when she is betrayed, and with neither shame nor remorse, by the very people she was entrusted to.

I will be the first person to ban comments that employ Argumentum ad Hominem (Attack against the person).  I would not even allow name calling here.  Happily, so far, I think no one has gone overboard.  We are very level-headed in our discussions, although I understand that some readers may be very close to the church, and so their emotions may get into the way.

We look forward to the day when  we can really look up to our bishops and priests for moral guidance, in word and in deed.  That end cannot be achieved if we decide to be silent when we can choose to speak.  That we are having these arguments already points to these shepherds’ failure to unite their flock.  Their actions cause confusion and division, and poor we should not be faulted for airing out our frustrations.

And yet all the things I write I write not out of malice nor ignorance.  My sources are reliable.  My analysis comes not from thin air but from careful discernment and reflection.  Truth to tell, I come from a family deeply immersed in the Catholic faith.

Just the same, my apologies for the hurt.

The Christmas gift I cannot give

A BISHOP I know pretends to champion social justice, but, right in his own backyard is brewing unrest.

“His true colors now show,” say a group of parish workers.  “He is a moneymaker.”

For instance, he announced that he will celebrate masses in all parishes this Christmas season, and, with over 30 parishes in the diocese, and with the standard Php3,000 stipend the bishop gets per mass, the figures easily translate to Php100,000.  The amount does not include enveloped gifts and the customary bananas and eggs in shiny wrappings. Continue reading “The Christmas gift I cannot give”

Mom’s reaction

My mother’s reaction: You were very disrespectful to the bishops. You should respect them because they have sacrificed their lives. I am not going to buy any copy of the Ilocos Times anymore.

Herdy’s Riknakem: 1) I don’t think I was disrespectful. I was just offering honest observations; 2) Bishops live very comfortable lives. But yes, everybody has a cross to bear; 3) Thank you for bearing with me; 4) Okay, Mom, if you don’t feel like buying a copy, you can check the online version instead.

Kissing the hand but avoiding the ring

BISHOP SERGIO UTLEG sent me an email asking if I could meet him personally regarding my previous column [“Slap the Bishops: Support the Reproductive Health Bill (IT, Nov. 10-16)].

Initially, I was bent to shun the proposed meeting because I don’t exactly love being in awkward situations. Convinced, however, that what the bishop has to say deserves my ear, I obliged.

I thought of inviting the bishop to our place for dinner, but my mom, a daily communicant and church volunteer, strongly opposed. It was one of the rare moments she was not proud of me, she panicked at the prospect of the bishop discovering that I am her son.

So, on Wednesday evening, I asked my friend Angelica Salas to accompany me to the Bishop’s Palace to meet His Excellency. Putting her best foot forward, my usually vivacious Mareng Angge transformed into a “mayuming katekista” the soonest we stepped on palace grounds.

A blue barong-clad Utleg welcomed us at the Palace lobby and led us to his office. And when we were seated, he looked at my eyes and flashed a toothy smile for a few seconds that seemed to me like eternity. He began the conversation by asking why I wrote of him as a bishop “best known today not for anything spiritual”. He said he was curious to know, and wondered if it was because he is often seen bicycling. Continue reading “Kissing the hand but avoiding the ring”

Bishop’s Invitation

HIS EXCELLENCY SERGIO L. UTLEG, D.D., Bishop of Laoag, wrote via email to ask if we could meet personally re: my column last week.

I will, of course, oblige to the bishop’s invitation, although it feels awkward as this is my first time to sit down with a church official to talk about a serious issue.

The invitation to dialogue speaks something about this prelate who, despite espousing stances opposite to mine, has my respect. I feel humbled.

With healthy anxiety, I look forward to meeting the man and gaining from his thoughts.

Slap the bishops

I GREW UP KNOWING EDMUNDO M. ABAYA, D.D., yes, that bishop known for nothing worthy of notice, save his lavish birthday parties attended by politicians and society’s who’s who. So, I have never really been a fan of bishops.

No, not know, when we have a Sergio Utleg, best known today, not for anything spiritual, but for ardently supporting the construction of a mall that will displace a top-performing elementary school, and will, consequently, lead to the tearing down of heritage structures .

I vaguely remember receiving the sacrament of confirmation as a kid almost two decades ago, but, from what I can recall, a bishop gave me the ceremonial slap-on-the-face to initiate me to Christian maturity.

I am not sure though whether the Roman Catholic Church is exactly a bastion of maturity. Here we speak of the same church which persecuted Galileo Galilee for presenting his discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around. This is the very church which kept silent while millions of Jews were tortured and murdered during World War II. This is the church headed by Benedict XVI, that pope who triggered violence when he spoke careless remarks against Islam shortly after he assumed the papacy, and who is now bent on beatifying Pius XII, the architect of silence during the Holocaust. And, yes, you are right, this is the church that spanks Jueteng lords with one hand, and accepts “donations” from them with the other.

This is why in this religion that thrives on blind obedience, it is a breath of fresh air when well-meaning individuals dare to defy the bishops. This is what 55 professors from Ateneo de Manila University did when they issued a statement in support of a very important piece of legislation which, yet again, might just go down the drain, thanks to the influence of our bishops. Here I am referring to House Bill 5043—The Reproductive Health Bill, which seeks a national policy on reproductive health and family planning. Supported by development organizations and women’s groups, the bill aims to address maternal, child health, and nutrition problems, especially among the poor, by promoting modern methods of contraception and by providing age-appropriate sex education in public schools.Feeling the pressure from the bishops, Gloria Arroyo, known for doing anything and everything in the name of political survival, threw in a near-fatal blow to the bill when, in her last State of the Nation Address, she tried to win divine approval by sidelining modern methods in favor of natural family planning (NFP). Presidential allies in Congress, recipients of the many blessings that go with being chummy with the leader of one of the most corrupt countries in the world, are expected to follow their idol’s lead.

The group of Ateneo professors, which includes some Jesuit priests, came out with a position paper titled, “A Call of Conscience: Catholics in Support of the RH Bill,” that looked at the bill through various lenses — the social sciences, philosophy and theology. In the paper, the professors pointed out that “Catholic social teachings recognize the primacy of the well-formed conscience over wooden compliance to directives from political and religious authorities.”

“We believe it is possible for Catholics like ourselves to support HB 5043 in good conscience even as we recognize, with some anguish, that our view contradicts the position held by some of our fellow Catholics, including our bishops,” they said.

More than the arguments they set forth, what struck me with the position paper is the tempered manner by which the professors presented their views. Disappointed, piqued, and feeling insulted by the bishops’ pronouncements on a number of issues, I’m afraid I cannot do the same.

Contending that sex should be done only in the context of procreation, the church demonizes the use of modern artificial means of contraception.

But, of course, sex is not just for procreation. It is an act of intimacy meant to express feelings that words cannot make manifest, of making ‘the other’ feel loved in a way so passionate, of celebrating the joys and pleasures of togetherness. What do the clergy know about sex to begin with? (With due apologies to those who sired children and molested altar boys) They seem to believe that they are above it and so they embrace celibacy. And, by shunning sex, they have created a mystical image for themselves. From that mystique springs forth, or so they hope, their authority.

If you are an overseas worker who unites with your spouse only once in a long time, or if you are the wife of an abusive husband who demands sex anytime he wants it, or if, very simply, your menstruation is irregular and so you cannot rely on NFP, why should you avoid modern methods? The bishops seem incapable of respecting couples who in their “most secret core and sanctuary” or conscience, have decided that their and their family’s interests would best be served by using modern methods. These bishops intrude into your matrimonial bed, and you allow it?

The church says that the use of condoms and pills is anti-life. Sometimes, bishops would even entertain illusions of being science wizards and ridiculously link contraceptive pills with abortion. But who are taking them seriously anyway? Most Catholics I talk to favor modern methods of contraception and they do not feel guilty about their stance, which is why bishops, not content with grandstanding in pulpits, now want to bang the legislative gavels, too.

When we talk about life, we go beyond thinking about quantity, and deal with its quality. We wonder why the bishops are not disturbed about population growth. They say, “but the bible tells us not to worry because even the birds find something to eat.” (Matthew 6: 25-34) Beyond this lousy exegesis, however, four out of ten Filipinos complain of hunger, making the Filipino people, now numbering over 90 million, one of the top five hungriest in the world. Unemployment is depressingly high. And poverty stands at alarming levels. I am sure the bishops know these, unless Their Excellencies got so cozy living in, where else, but their Bishops’ Palaces.

Could it be that the Church wants the population to remain bloated so more could avail of its paid services? Last time I checked, the St. William’s Cathedral charges 300 to 600 pesos for baptism, plus 100 pesos for every godparent. And the church earns on death as much as it does in life. The thick piles of envelopes they collected last All Souls Day reveal this. And all you need is some saliva and holy water. Quite a profitable business, isn’t it? And to think that religious organizations are exempt from paying taxes.

Moving on, the bishops say that by teaching sex education in schools, young people are led to engage in premarital sex. This is outrageous. If at all, the culture of silence on sex leaves young people wilder and more curious. Because adults do not talk about it, they are forced to launch their own expeditions on a trial-and-error basis. This results to unwanted pregnancies, abortion, and even sexually transmitted diseases.

Ideally, it is the parents who should talk to their children about sex, but we concede that this is simply not the case in our culture. Parents wishfully think that their children will remain innocent forever and, on their part, children feel awkward discussing sex with mama and papa. A young man’s first source of information about sex, apart from media, is his peers, who, needless to say, are just as vulnerable as he is.

Part of the subject Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. I am firmly convinced though that such education on safe and responsible sex must begin in high school for it is in the earlier adolescent years that the youth begin their explorations. When I graduated from high school, for instance, ten percent of the girls were pregnant. You can imagine how much more young women bear children while in college. It will be more shocking to know how many of them have undergone abortion, risking their own lives in the process.

So, what course of action do we take when our sense of good reason now defies the wisdom of the bishops? There are a few options. Best thing to do is dialogue with them and ask them to reconsider their stance. But reconsider they never will as their immense pride emanates from the infallibility of their big boss, the pope. For those who are unlucky (or lucky!) not to be educated in Catholic schools, the pope is always right when it comes to dogmatic teachings on doctrine and morals.

Another thing is to just stay in the church and ignore what the bishops say. This is what most Catholics do. I, however, am uncomfortable with this set-up. I cannot continue to be part of a church that considers my acts, born out of conscience, as anti-life, sinful, displeasing to God. I wish to live in a state of grace, not of apathy and hypocrisy. This now leads us to the third option: leave the church and find another group that respects your human sensibility.

Even after you leave the Catholic Church, however, the madness of the bishops shall follow you wherever you go in this country that is yet to recover from the nightmares of Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi. Given the immense pressure the church exerts on our government, Filipinos—Catholic or not—are deprived of help they rightfully deserve. Such is the case of H.B. 5043.

There are a few bishops that I admire though. One of them is Jacinto “Jack” Jose, Laoag’s pride and now Urdaneta’s treasure. But I admire him not because he is a bishop, but because he is a man of virtue. And virtue, of course, is no monopoly of men with cute purple caps.

Not all bishops are in heaven and countless souls who defied them are in God’s loving embrace as you read this.

It’s time for Catholics to mature. It’s time to ‘slap’ the bishops.