The silence of Cardinal Tagle
“In the end, what will hurt most are not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” (Martin Luther King)
We live in perilous times, when the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug users and pushers has become the new normal, government institutions are threatened with extinction, government employees are ordered to resign on unproven graft charges, relatives of suspected drug users have no recourse to courts of law, and a senator is harassed and shamed in congressional hearings, instead of being formally charged in court, for allegedly taking money from drug lords.
Amid all these, Cardinal Chito Tagle is silent. Except for his sermons on TV on Sundays, he remains distant from the many disturbing news that have emerged since Rodrigo Duterte’s election as president.
The people are confused, hurting and scared to speak out. Thousands of Mr. Duterte’s storm troopers are on the prowl, ready to pounce on anyone who criticizes their idol using the social media. So the people withdraw into their rabbit holes, afraid of possible danger to their life and property.
Without doubt, the flock is scattered and in disarray. They ache for a leader, a shepherd, and a voice that will denounce evil, guide and provide solace in this time of grave peril. That leader should be Cardinal Tagle. He should stand in the wind unafraid to show the powerful that those who can kill the body cannot kill the soul. Unfortunately, it appears that he is not the man of the hour to restore courage in the hearts of the people to resist oppression.
Recently, I had a phone conversation with an eminent theologian of the Loyola School of Theology (Ateneo de Manila) about Cardinal Tagle, his former student. In brief, here is what he said: Cardinal Tagle is very bright, humorous, an expert theologian, engaging and full of insights. But he’s not a risk-taker. He prefers to stay in the safety of his residence, dishing out platitudes rather than engaging in shaping the political discourse of the nation. He strives to be a friend of everybody and longs for their approval in return.
According to the eminent theologian, Cardinal Tagle is not a John the Baptist who confronted King Herod Antipas about his adulterous life and paid with his head for it. Nor is he an Archbishop Oscar Moreno of El Salvador who was shot dead by the Salvadoran death squad for denouncing extrajudicial killings in his country.
The eminent theologian also said the Catholic hierarchy has failed to condemn, and to mobilize the people against, the excesses of the Duterte administration. In fact, he said, many Catholics are complicit in the EJKs: “Some policemen and vigilantes attend Mass on Sundays and execute suspected drug users the rest of the week,” he said.
He said that in place of the current hierarchy, a leader or leaders from the people must emerge who can mobilize the masses in their struggle to achieve a decent society not ruled by a tyrant and a demagogue. The leader or leaders must have the moral courage of the martyrs of martial law to stand before
Mr. Duterte and tell him that he is not the creator of life. Only the Creator of life can take it away. Otherwise, the cruel judgment of history will be upon him and his ilk.
Carlos D. Isles (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer, poet and professional harmonica player with a degree in philosophy from San Jose Seminary (Ateneo de Manila).
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