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There’s the Rub

Rock the boat

/ 01:36 AM February 05, 2014

CBCP head Socrates Villegas isn’t at all thrilled by Rolling Stone magazine’s article on Pope Francis. His unhappiness doesn’t stem from the fact that his boss has become a virtual rock star. Nor does his unhappiness stem from the fact that his boss is discouraging more piety by trivializing doctrine, noting that attendance at Mass has shot up in this country since last year.

His unhappiness stems from this: “It praises Pope Francis at the expense of Pope Benedict. We should not bring down one to glorify another. That is not responsible journalism.”

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Well, I can understand why Villegas’ fragile sensibilities were assailed by Mark Binelli’s contrast of the two popes, particularly his reference to Freddy Krueger:

“Against the absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican, a world still run like a medieval court, Francis’ election represents what his friend Elisabetta Piqué, an Argentine journalist, calls ‘a scandal of normality.’ Since his election last March, Francis has consistently confounded expectations with the simplest of gestures: surprising desk clerks at the hotel where he’d been staying by showing up to pay his own bill; panicking bodyguards by swigging from a cup of maté handed to him by a stranger during a visit to Brazil; cracking up cardinals with jokes at his own expense hours after being elected, ‘May God forgive you for what you’ve done.’

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“After the disastrous papacy of Benedict, a staunch traditionalist who looked like he should be wearing a striped shirt with knife-fingered gloves and menacing teenagers in their nightmares, Francis’ basic mastery of skills like smiling in public seemed a small miracle to the average Catholic.”

It’s hilarious, and totally deserved. In fact, Binelli’s article isn’t just perfectly responsible, it’s perfectly brilliant. It traces the truly mysterious ways by which Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope, his revolutionary impact on the Church barely a year since he became so, and his portending and portentous impact on the world economic order as we know it in the next few years. I particularly liked the part where he comes to Rome for the conclave with only one suitcase in hand and stays at a cheapie hotel, planning to head back for Buenos Aires soon after the elections. He never figured he’d be staying there a little longer.

I can understand why Villegas would be assailed by the comparison, or contrast, between the two popes. At the very least, it also encourages comparing, or contrasting, him with other people. Specifically the former archbishop of Manila and now cardinal, Chito Tagle.

The only difference in the comparison is that Benedict and Francis came one after the other while Villegas and Tagle are contemporaries. With Tagle being officially the highest Church official of the land, though he rarely announces it or calls attention to it, and Villegas being the unofficial claimant of the title as head of the CBCP, a thing he seems loath to make the world forget.

Like Francis, Tagle rarely puts on his princely, or prelate-ly, attire unless forced to by formal occasions, preferring ordinary pants and a polo barong when meeting guests. Like Francis, he has talked with the poor, walked with the poor, lived with the poor, as bishop of Cavite then and as cardinal now, plunging into the squalor of slums to learn about the plight of his flock without hesitation. Like Francis, he has gained international attention, having recently been invited to the economic forum in Davos to talk about “integrity, religion and development.”

Like Benedict, Villegas is constantly clad in archbishopric raiment, lest Filipinos forget his station in life, and if he has set foot in the pit of Payatas or post-“Yolanda” Tacloban, only he knows about it. Like Benedict, he has lived doctrine, breathed doctrine, belched doctrine, proclaiming at one point that “contraception is corruption,” thus reminding the world of Francis’ complaint at one point about Church officials harboring that mindset: “[They] want to stick the whole world inside a condom.” Like Benedict, he has distinguished himself only for his lack of distinction.

At the very most, it’s so because on principle he doesn’t like the idea of extolling the sterling at the expense of the mediocre, or the good at the expense of the bad. As head of the CBCP, he has recently issued a strongly worded pastoral letter slamming the “economy of exclusion” and calling the grinding poverty in the country “scandalous.” Which is all very well, and which makes him sound more like Francis than Benedict, except for one thing: He forgot to say what exactly the Church has done about it. In fact he forgot to ask if the bishops are an incidental part of the cure or an integral part of the disease.

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Specifically, in the case of the latter, the bishops who went to visit their favorite unelected president, the ones who said “everybody cheats anyway” and propped her up through thick and thin and “Hello Garci,” and demanded God’s due in the form of Pajeros and other SUVs on their birthdays and other occasions, including wala lang, it would be nice to have one. I don’t know that Davos defines “inclusive economy” as one that includes bishops in the hatian.

What do I do, rejoice at the blessing that is Chito Tagle—and, not quite incidentally, Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop of Cotabato whom Francis has also just made cardinal, a man of peace in the deepest sense of it as someone who bears the scars of the war for peace—but not at the expense of the curse that are Villegas and ilk? I’ll simply forget them and, well, move on? Or praise them, too?

That’s not good journalism. Good journalism, like Francis, has been known to rock.

Good journalism, like Francis, has been known to rock the boat.

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TAGS: Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Cardinal Chito Tagle, Catholic Church, Conrado de Quiros, opinion, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, Religion, Rolling Stone, There's the Rub
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