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There’s the Rub

Life and death

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The efforts of the diocese in Bacolod to malign the senators who voted for the Reproductive Health bill have taken a bit of a comical turn. As most everyone knows by now, a month or so ago the San Sebastian Church in Bacolod City hung a tarpaulin on walls putting two groups of senators under the headings “Team Patay” and “Team Buhay.” After the Commission on Elections remonstrated with it for violating election rules on the size of posters—this one went well past the norm—the diocese decided to cut it in half though one still coming after the other, thereby emphasizing the divide all the more.

I always thought the Comelec was bothering with a small thing, and not quite incidentally giving the San Sebastian initiative no small amount of free advertising. It wouldn’t have gotten that much attention if the Comelec hadn’t decided to throw some its way. Quite apart from that, given that the RH was popular among the faithful—which explained the congressional vote favoring it—I didn’t know that the San Sebastian Church itself wasn’t giving free advertisement to the “Team Patay” candidates.

But comes now the comical twist that made my day last Monday. A poster suddenly sprouted on Facebook entitled, “The Team Damaso ang Tunay Na Patay,” that listed the clergy in Bacolod that had fathered children. They included Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, an archbishop, three bishops, one retired bishop and one priest. “Beware of these clowns,” the poster warned.

The initiators of the “Team Patay, Team Buhay” poster were taken aback, and whined. “These attacks are very unchristian,” said Bishop Navarra. “Some priests who have had indiscretions in the past have realized what they did, shown that they are repentant, reformed and have made amends.”

The defense is redolent with irony. Not least is that Navarra, who himself is accused of fathering a child, is the one doing the defending. He calls their collective transgression an “indiscretion” in contrast to the mortal sin of voting for RH, but the sheer number of the indiscretions and the extent to which it goes high up must suggest how this particular indiscretion seems to be a favorite pastime of the clergy. No wonder the other churches in Bacolod will have nothing to do with tacking the same tarpaulin on their walls. People who live in glass houses cannot afford throwing stones.

More than that, the question is how exactly the priests and (arch)bishops have shown repentance and made amends. By denying their indiscretions and hiding their offshoot, or offspring, from view? By disenfranchising the children of their inheritance, quite apart from their father’s name, particularly where the priest’s or bishop’s family is well-off? Leaving the offshoot, or offspring, to their mothers’ devices, quite apart from their shame—small communities tend to render cruel judgments—not all, or most, of them, coming from so-called “good families,” or buena familias?

The ultimate irony is that the tribe of children the clergy are leaving behind does not just reveal the hypocrisy of the Bacolod diocese’s position, it reveals the very wisdom and virtue and merit of the RH position. Which is that the wise, the responsible and the godly thing to do is to have only as much children as you are capable of supporting. Or in this case to have one only if you are willing to feed it, take care of it, hell, merely acknowledge it.

The way things are, the only thing you can really say for the priests, who give the word “Father” whole new dimensions, is that they practice what they preach. Which in this case you wish they wouldn’t. They may violate their vow of chastity with impunity, but they will not violate their imagined duty to make their tribe increase so. Which is really just compounding one sin with another. I’m not unsympathetic to priests having sex—it should give them better insights into life—I just wish they would practice RH.

In the end, I’m glad the Bacolod diocese came out with that poster on Team Patay and Team Buhay. It’s eye-opening in ways that the Church never contemplated. If it said “daang patay” and “daang buhay,” it could not have put the choice more starkly to the faithful.

Beyond elections, that is the choice that faces Catholics today, as a whole and in this country in particular, about their faith. It’s particularly timely that that choice is being presented to them even as the Vatican itself, the seat of Catholicism, is in the throes of a life-and-death struggle over it.

Which faith will you embrace, the Old Testament—one with its plagues and torments and punishments to visit those who go against a jealous God, or the New Testament—one with its spirit of forgiveness and tolerance and love filling the soul till it runneth over? The one that is about form rather than substance, about blind obedience rather than enlightened, tongues-of-fire choices, the one about saying three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and three Glory Bes to expunge the soul of indiscretions, or the one about learning to discern right and wrong, to plunge into the dark nights of the soul over bane and evil, but to revel as well in the laughter of life?

Which faith will you embrace? The one that tells you to value non-existent, phantasmagoric, hypothetical life and be contemptuous of the real, obdurate, flesh-and-blood one, or the other way around? The one that tells you to hear Mass, receive the sacraments, and follow your wayward shepherd to perdition, or hell just so you could enjoy salvation, and heaven, afterward, or the one that reminds you that Christ once said what you do to the least of your brethren you do to him? The one that says the Rock is in a perpetual state of decay or the one that says it is in a constant state of renewal?

Which faith will you embrace?

The patay or the buhay?


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