Breaking the silence of the sheep: stop the killings, protest threats to democracy
In January 2017, lay leaders of three Jesuit social apostolates sent a letter, “Our shepherds have not been silent” (Inquirer, 1/28/17), to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
The letter praised bishops who had denounced the thousands of killings of drug suspects by police and unidentified assailants in the Duterte administration’s first seven months.
Thirty months and tens of thousands more deaths later, four bishops, three priests and a Christian brother are charged with inciting to sedition and other crimes by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG). One thing they have in common is their public opposition to the killings.
Some in the Catholic Church view these developments as evidence that openly rebuking the killings is the wrong strategy. Instead of stopping the carnage, they argue, this strategy has brought persecution upon the institution, humiliation to the hierarchy and division among the flock. The Church, such conciliatory Catholics hold, must find common ground with the administration in addressing the drug problem while helping families bereaved by the killings—but quietly, lest such assistance be interpreted as taking the families’ side against the government’s.
But that strategy has not stopped the killings, either.
We, the laity and religious of Gomburza, insist that public opposition to the killings is not bad ecclesiastical strategy, or a strategy at all. It is basic good shepherding. It is what Christ would have done. If our bishops, priests and religious who have condemned the killings find themselves facing arrest and trial, that is no more than what Jesus faced for proclaiming the Kingdom.
Now that our good shepherds are the ones encircled by wolves, it is not enough—it was never enough—for us who are not priests to call out reluctant shepherds to defend them.
If the killings continue, if our good shepherds are in peril, it is not just because other shepherds have not broken their silence. It is because we, the sheep, have not broken ours. We ourselves must defend our shepherds, call for a stop to the killings and protest advancing threats to our democracy.
But a culture of clericalism in our Church has kept in check many Catholics disaffected by human rights violations, antidemocratic moves and persecution of the Church. We who are not priests look to our clerical advisers, parish priests and bishops to tell us what to do and say. We wait with a virtuous sense of Christian obedience for their marching orders, even as we may chafe under the restraint, wondering why the orders never come.
Yet the Catholic Church teaches that it is as much the laity’s responsibility as the clergy’s and the hierarchy’s to uphold the dignity given to all God’s children. If the clergy does not do it enough, that is no excuse for the rest of us not to do it. The CBCP’s Pastoral Exhortation on Politics (1997) tells us that “direct participation in the political order is the special responsibility of the laity in the Church. It is their specific task to renew the temporal order according to Gospel principles and values.”
We invite Catholics outraged by the inciting to sedition charges to organize themselves to express solidarity with our beleaguered shepherds, through special Masses, prayer services and processions at their parishes, open letters of encouragement to the accused and open letters of protest to the Department of Justice and the PNP-CIDG. Let’s show the wolves that, with God on our side, we are not afraid. Let’s show our shepherds that we who are not clergy can be good shepherds, too.
Sister Teresita Alo, SFIC
Teresita Samson Castillo
Eleanor R. Dionisio
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.