The decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign effective Feb. 28, 2013, has literally shaken the world. It is the first such resignation since Pope Gregory XII’s in 1415. And it is remarkable that for the first time a Filipino cardinal, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, is being considered a viable candidate for pope and could in fact be the next pope. This brings to focus the state of the Church in our country.
The Philippines is still one of the predominantly Catholic countries in the world with around 75 percent of its population Catholic. In addition, the country has a formidable plethora of 16 archdioceses, 64 dioceses and seven vicariates apostolic. Nonetheless, its influence has waned over the years. There is a severe shortage of priests, with only one priest per 13,000 Catholics, and a growing number of so-called cafeteria Catholics who do not live and believe the Catholic faith in toto, but just pick and choose what they want. This was illustrated by the wide support for the reproductive health bill, despite staunch opposition from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The so-called Catholic vote is a potential yet to be realized, and in fact is mocked by some legislators as nonexistent. Some of the government officials perceived to be corrupt (the World Bank estimates that 30 percent of the national budget is lost to corruption every year; another estimate proposes that corruption eats away around P250 billion a year) are graduates of the top Catholic schools in the country.
The poverty incidence in the Philippines is at 27 percent—that is, slightly more than one out of every four Filipinos earn $1 or P40 or less a day, prompting some to say that perhaps the Church should devote less attention to rituals and rubrics, and more to relevant education and poverty alleviation.
More and more Catholics are turning away from the Church with its “boring” Masses and sermons, and turning to evangelical sects that offer more community participation and sense of belongingness. And then there is the (in)famous case of Carlos Celdran unashamedly mocking the Catholic Church in a solemn ceremony before the highest ranking prelates in the country in the nation’s foremost cathedral, and getting away with it. Well, almost. He even earned the support of some of our honorable senators. I think that if Celdran had staged his caper in a Muslim mosque, he would not have lived very long after that.
If the Catholic Church wants to advance its main agenda of “Faith transforming Life,” of Filipinos living what they believe, it will have to reengineer and restructure itself into an effective organization of both clergy and laity, and not rely mainly on the clerical hierarchy, which is now the case. Therefore the Church’s agenda has to be borne and worked out proportionately by both the Church hierarchy and the Catholic faithful, and not mostly by the churchmen alone. Unfortunately, the DNA of the Catholic Church is hierarchical and leans heavily on the clergy to accomplish its mission.
When one thinks of Church, for example, one thinks of churches, priests and bishops, and not of the faithful. Which is not the case of the evangelicals and the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC)—look at their success—or that of the early Christian communities during the first and second centuries! Because of these early Christians, history has been divided into two—BC and AD. The Church therefore should reengineer itself, evolve its DNA as it were, and truly and effectively enlist the “Army of the Faithful” to do God’s work on this earth hand in hand with the clergy. If Jesus in our modern world were to send his disciples again to preach his Word two by two, one of them would be a cleric. The other would be a layperson.
Samuel J. Yap is a member of the Philippine Association of Xseminarians.