‘Contested terrain’

/ 10:46 PM October 19, 2012

“[OCT. 11] marked the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s opening,” Inquirer columnist Michael Tan noted. Given that the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, he wrote, “I’m surprised how little has been said in the media about this … when the Church is going through such ferment.”

A country fragmented into 7,012 islands at high tide molds an insular mindset, some assert. Vision halts at the seashore or expands to a country or two. From there, overseas Filipino workers send home padala or remittances. But are we blinded by narrow clans?


“For all the trappings of national government … we conduct our affairs pretty much in the manner of Lapu-Lapu,” the late historian Horacio de la Costa wrote. “[The] congressman, who moves around with bodyguards, is not much different from the datu surrounded by retainers.” This attitude “casts away national and pubic values,” the Jesuit scholar added. “[It] aggravates the need for taking private measures to protect private interests.”

A Synod of 262 bishops is now reviewing the “cargo of hope” and letdowns of Vatican II (1962-1965). Among the synod fathers are Luis Tagle of Manila and Jose Palma of Cebu.


Vatican II recast a faith claimed by a billion people worldwide (eight out of 10 Filipinos are Catholics). It broadened the role of laymen, stripped off obsolete trappings, and adopted liturgy into the vernacular. The Church turned away from the internal concerns of Vatican I. Instead, it reached out to other faiths, from Jews to Muslims. But Vatican II hopes shriveled as a Curia of bureaucrats dragged its heels.

“Institutional innovations, like diocesan pastoral councils, were haphazardly implemented and underutilized. The Synod of Bishops was stillborn. National bishops’ conferences were subordinated to the curial approval. They never led to regular channels of communication between people and  hierarchy,” notes America magazine.

Transparency and accountability, whether for financial or sexual improprieties, are norms of a just society. “The Church must cease to claim exemptions for itself … and must not stand outside the scrutiny of its members.

Many Filipinos view all these through the prism of family. Today’s Synod of “New Evangelization” overlaps with the Oct. 21 canonization of a 17-year-old Filipino catechist and six others. Like Lorenzo Ruiz of Binondo before him, Pedro Calungsod of the Visayas is “bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh.” We’ll see a fiesta to eclipse other fiestas.

“Reform the Church?” asked Archbishop Angelo Roncalli. “Is such a thing possible?” This son of Italian sharecroppers was elected as a transition pope. Jolting a sclerotic Church to its founding fervor would have to wait.

As Pope John XXIII, however, Roncalli stunned many by calling out: Apertura a sinistra. “Open the windows” and let fresh air in. Few foresaw the gales of reform that the Council would unleash. When it closed three years later, a transformed institution emerged: one that re-imaged the Church as “People of God, with full participation of all the baptized, yet always in need of reform.” Council advisor Fr. Joseph Ratzinger  defined it as perennis reformatio. He repeated the theme, as Pope Benedict XVI.

Vatican II reached out to other faiths, from Jews to Muslims, and built bridges to a world hurtling into a digital age. It asserted its “prophetic role,” smudged by cozy accommodation with assorted dictators.


“I have the bishops by their balls,” Ferdinand Marcos scoffed when Pope John Paul II set a visit for January 1981. Marcos announced the cosmetic lifting of martial law. Imelda decked out the Coconut Palace. But the Pontiff politely declined, and instead lodged at the spartan nunciature in Pasay.

“Even in exceptional conditions … the state cannot claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded,” John Paul told a poker-faced Ferdinand Marcos in his Jan. 17, 1981, speech at Malacañang Palace.

On that same visit, John Paul beatified Lorenzo Ruiz at Luneta. And in Bacolod, he pressed for an end to the exploitation of the sacada. “This is war,” fumed a Negros sugar planter.

After February 1986’s rigged election, Marcos declared that he had won over Corazon Aquino. “A government that assumes or retains power by fraudulent means has no moral basis,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said in a pastoral letter. It called for “active resistance of evil by peaceful means.” People Power sent the dictator into exile.

Worldwide, there has been an exponential growth in educated Catholics. Priest-theologians are a minority. In the years ahead, pastoring will, to a great extent, consist of fostering fuller participation of this educated laity.

Controversies here mirror the Curia’s resistance. An eminent canon lawyer, the bishop of Tagbilaran, said over Radio Veritas: Those who support  the Reproductive Health bill court excommunication. That’d cast President Aquino into exterior darkness. That goes for University of the Philippines demographer Mercedes Concepcion, one of 42 scientists Pope Paul VI had asked to serve in the Humanae Vitae panel.

The Second Plenary Council here taught that religious freedom to advocate a cause may not be used to deny that same freedom to those  who disagree, constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas recalled. The bishop of Antipolo turned livid.

“The legacy of Vatican II remains in dispute,” America magazine says. “Demands of our own age call for corrections of deviations… We move in contested terrain.”

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TAGS: `cargo of hope’, church, evangelization, Juan L. Mercado, Vatican II
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