Social Climate

Tolerance of Church interference

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Last week’s piece (“My favorite priest,” Inquirer, 3/16/2013) cited a 1996 study on Catholics in seven countries showing Filipinos as the least insistent that a new pope should carry out certain reforms in the Church.

For example, having bishops locally elected, rather than appointed by the Vatican, is favored by only 37 percent of Catholics in the Philippines, compared to 48 percent in Italy, and majorities of 53 percent in Poland, 58 percent in the United States, 63 percent in Ireland, 74 percent in Spain, and 75 percent in (West) Germany.

Aside from being the most conservative about how the Catholic Church is run, Filipinos are also the most tolerant about Church interference in public affairs.  I will show this by comparing Filipinos with Mexicans, Americans, Italians and Spaniards, using the 2008 survey on religion of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), and without separating Catholics from non-Catholics.

Incidentally, the Philippines has the third-largest Catholic population in the world (base year 2010), at about 76 million, behind Brazil (134 million) and Mexico (96 million).  Fourth is the United States (74 million) and fifth is Italy (50 million).  Spain has 35 million Catholics. (Source: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Global Christianity,” December 2011).  Brazil did not take part in the 2008 ISSP survey.

1. Let us consider agreement versus disagreement with this statement to the survey respondents: “Religious leaders should not try to influence how people vote in elections.”  This is pertinent to the current “Team Buhay, Team Patay” controversy.  Among Filipinos, 68 percent agreed, 20 percent disagreed, and the balance were undecided.  Subtracting the 20 from the 60, this reduces to a +48 “net agreement” that there should be no Church interference in elections.

The Filipino objection to interference in elections is relatively weak, since the agree-disagree percentages for Mexicans were 69-17 or +52 net.  Among Americans, the score was 72-13 or +59 net.  Among Italians, the score was 81-5 or +76 net.  Among Spaniards, it was 84-9 or +75 net.

2. Let us consider agreement versus disagreement with:  “Religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions.” Among Filipinos, 65 percent agreed and 20 percent disagreed, implying a +45 net objection to such Church interference.  This is pertinent to the continuing controversy over the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, which was temporarily stopped by the Supreme Court.

Among both Mexicans and Americans, 68 percent agreed and 17 percent disagreed, both implying a +51 net objection to such interference, six points stronger than the objection of Filipinos.  Among Italians, the score was 79-6, or a +73 net objection, 22 points stronger than the objection of Mexicans and Americans.  Spaniards had a score of 82-9, or also a net +73 objection.

3. The survey asked: “Do you think that churches and religious organizations in this country have too much power, about the right amount of power, or too little power?”  Among Filipinos, 25 percent said “too much,” 51 percent said “about right,” and 22 percent said “too little.”  This shows a well-balanced spread of opinions, with a very slight +3 point tilt toward churches having too much power.

Among Americans, the three percentages were 36, 50 and 17, also largest in the middle, but with a +19 point tilt toward “too much.”  Among Mexicans, the scores were 44, 26 and 29, heaviest on “too much,” but with a counterbalancing “too little” that made the tilt only +15 points, a little less than among Americans.

Among Spaniards, the percentages were 54, 34 and 11, implying majority criticism of Church power as being excessive, by a strong margin of +43 points.  Italians—geographically the closest to the Vatican—were the most critical of all, with percentages of 56, 38 and 6, decrying excessive Church power by a margin of +50 points.

In global perspective, Filipinos are relatively tolerant of Church interference.

* * *

A Jesuit story of the Curia. I once had the good fortune of being seated next to Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ, on a long plane trip from Rome to Manila.  This was in the days when full economy fare—paid for, in my case, by some UN organization, I suppose—entitled one to a seat in business class, since all the ordinary economy seats had discounted fares.

I hadn’t met the famous Jesuit historian personally before, but recognized him from the many pictures that any grade-plus-high-school Atenean comes across, and introduced myself.  The many hours of conversation with him were so pleasant that it seemed we arrived in Manila too soon.

What I remember best is this story Father De la Costa told, when I asked him what it was like to be working at the Vatican:

Once upon a time, a newborn baby was found in a basket on the steps of the Roman Curia. This led to tremendous speculation as to who its father could possibly be.  But the scandal was resolved when a Jesuit lawyer gave three compelling reasons why the baby’s father could not possibly be anyone from the Curia.

In the first place, he said, it is well known that nothing in the Curia is so simple as to be accomplished in only nine months.

In the second place, he said, it is equally well known that nothing in the Curia can get done, once it requires the cooperation of two people.

But the most convincing reason, the Jesuit said, is that no one in the Curia could even be suspected of doing something out of love.

* * *

Contact SWS: or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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