Church no longer exempt from scrutinyBy Asuncion David Maramba
Philippine Daily Inquirer
“WHY WOULD someone with the name Asuncion [a great feast of Mary] find time to pass judgement on the Catholic Church?” (reaction to “Spiritual but not religious,” Inquirer, 4/27/13). Once in a while I do get such rebukes, friendly and not so. A prelate once commended me for a column but remarked that “the institution can’t be destroyed; many have tried but failed.” But he got me right; it’s the institution that I twit, not the wonderful works of the people of God. Probably for my ears, a priest said that the Church “is like an elephant”—that is, big and indestructible.
Such hints boil down to one message: “So, you’re attacking the Church.” That confounds me. First who wants to destroy or get rid of institutions; who says that the Church is dying? No one wants to bring down Congress (corrupt as it is) or the Judiciary, or a school or university, or the family (contrary to the hysterics of the “buhays”). Why would anyone single out the institutional Church? Only coups, war, revolution, terrorism, dictators destroy sacred institutions. The rest of us seek only to reform.
Second, it confounds me to be mistaken for an “attacker.” I do exposition: I explain, exemplify, clarify as simply and mildly as possible, with understatement and innuendo, yes, but no fireworks. I do not do argumentation. I am not confrontational and never set out to “engage” anybody. Dubbed a “critical moderate,” that is what I have always aimed to be.
But why do such reactions crop up?
First, many still consider the Church a sacred cow—untouchable, to be held in high esteem, never to be criticized, certainly not by lay persons with the gall to suggest reform. The Church has been not only sensitive, it is also often impervious to scrutiny; dissent, verboten; discussion, zilch. Only the hierarchy can critique themselves.
Then there is the “perfect society” meme which we were led or allowed to believe as a society that was sinless and inerrant; only to find out that it refers to organizational and structural completeness, “a perfect and absolutely independent society with full legislative, judicial and coercive powers.” (Catholicism, p 659). The Mystical Church is perfect with inviolate sacredness and a divine character. But that is another story.
We are also expected to keep our mouths shut in accordance with the age-old culture of coverup, secrecy and silence. So reflective of this culture is the e-mailer’s admonition, “… cover the failures you may see with the mantel of charity.” Practically the same words in a response to me eight years ago (Inquirer, 6/16/05)—“cover with the mantel of charity the shortfalls you see.” Motivated by charity, but still coverup. Furthermore, criticism must not be done “in public.” How can whisper-whisper bring the Church forward?
Times have changed and the “special treatment” for the Church is wearing away. No institution is now above scrutiny or investigation. Government gets it every day without mercy. Schools are regularly subject to inspection and accreditation. Whenever business abuses, it gets a beating. More or less, institutions are now on a level playing field. Although painful to admit, the Church is no longer exempt.
The Church’s human face (to borrow Ceres Doyo’s column head) is not that of the so-called “perfect society.” It’s like yours and mine.
As for the culture of coverup, we all know how that has been split wide open like a self-inflicted implosion because of various clerical and ecclesiastical misdemeanors, made more glaring by an unstoppable, omnipresent communication technology that spares no one from both truth and trash. Criticism will inevitably “go public.”
Reform is imperative. We used to be coy and hide behind euphemisms like “renewal.” But Benedict XVI himself has admitted “sins within the Church” and “problems of its own making” as its “greatest persecution.” What pushed Pope Benedict’s resignation: a health crisis and/or a “job crisis”?
Moreover, reform must come not only from “within” the Church but also from “without,” meaning, from lay persons who are not echoes of the Church. There is already a small critical mass of concerned and knowledgeable people who have much to contribute. The Church would do well to “listen,” as Cardinal Antonio Tagle has advised. Self-reform or the notion that reform can come only from insiders is as futile as the bishop’s statement that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would curb her own corruption. “Who will guard the guard?”
And could that reform come a bit faster as our Church thinks “in terms of centuries” (Inquirer, 2/28/13), glacially, even as glaciers themselves are now melting faster? About 50 years ago, theologian Hans Kung wrote, “As a Church of men, sinful men, the Church though of divine foundation, needs criticizing…” Today, 50 years after, Kung has become more forceful: “… faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pressing for reform from the bottom up” (Tablet, 5/11/13).
The Church may be an elephant, but it’s an ailing, lumbering elephant like beloved Mali in the Manila Zoo.
Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist. Comments to marda_ph @yahoo.com, fax 8284454
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