Church lost its influence during Arroyo presidency
Has the Church lost its vaunted influence on Filipino society and public life?” asked Rina Jimenez-David in her column last Jan. 15 (“The Church’s muted voice”). Yes, it has. As Manuel L. Quezon III wrote in his own column the previous week (“The cross and the sword”), “The passing of Jaime Cardinal Sin … and a new generation of prelates easily coopted by then President Gloria Arroyo dismantled the political clout of the Church.”
Actually, the Catholic Church lost much of its political influence earlier. It waged a vigorous campaign in 1995 against senatorial candidate Juan Flavier, an ardent promoter of family planning, and in 1998 against presidential aspirant Joseph Estrada, a known womanizer. Both won resoundingly.
But the bishops lost during Arroyo’s presidency whatever little political influence they still had at the time. The severe erosion of their influence began in 2005 when they rejected calls for Arroyo to resign in spite of incontrovertible evidence that she tried to manipulate the 2004 presidential election.
Bishop Ramon Arguelles even defended her by saying, “Everybody cheats, anyway.” It is said that on the plea of Medy Poblador, an Arroyo underling, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and then Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas whisked a vital witness to the “Hello, Garci” tapes from his safehouse to the custody of the military.
In sharp contrast, Cardinal Sin and the bishops denounced the 1986 snap election as “unparalleled in the fraudulence of its conduct” and asked every member of the Church “to come together to discern what appropriate action to take.” The faithful assembled on Edsa when called to action.
In 2007, Church authorities in Quezon City threatened to deny Councilor Joseph Juico holy communion for urging the city to adopt a policy of responsible parenthood and effective population management. Yet, these same Church people have received, in pomp and pageantry, as in church weddings, and given the Holy Eucharist to high-society couples living together without the blessings of the sacrament of matrimony, and to public officials known to be guilty of large-scale anomalies and massive electoral fraud.
In 2008, on the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” the bishops pronounced artificial methods of family planning offensive to the sanctity of life, oblivious to the kind of life lived by countless families belonging to their dioceses. “Home” to many of them is the abutment of a bridge, the beam of the bridge serving as the roof, the bedrock as the floor, the abutment as the lone wall, and the bank of the river or estero the toilet.
At night, they rummage through garbage dumps, retrieving food leftovers that have not yet been foraged by stray cats and dogs or by vermin. On stormy days, they lose their “homes” temporarily, and their measly belongings and their little children permanently, when rampaging floodwaters from the swelled river sweep them away.
On that occasion, Cardinal Rosales spoke of the evil of abortion as if the family planning bills that had been introduced in Congress did not affirm that abortion is a crime and is penalized under the Revised Penal Code. His attempt at muddling the issue diminished his eminence.
The Church lost its credibility completely in 2012 when it was revealed that in 2009, a number of bishops asked Arroyo for high-priced vehicles, with Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos asking for a brand-new car as her birthday gift to him. The bishops got what they wanted. It was also revealed that other bishops were handed money envelopes by functionaries during dinners in Malacañang.
They were the same bishops who were silent about Arroyo’s use of fertilizer funds and sweepstakes money for her presidential campaign in 2004, her support of the Ampatuans in the elections in Maguindanao in 2007, and her attempt to get the anomalous NBN-ZTE deal approved.
Bishop Nereo Odchimar, president of the bishops in 2012, has expressed sadness over the confusion caused by the “apparent inconsistency of our actions with our pastoral preaching.”
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.
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