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Mediating a Church dispute on people power

The late Jaime Cardinal Sin is especially remembered for his indispensable role in calling and leading the faithful during the people power revolutions on Feb. 22-25, 1986 (Edsa 1) and on Jan. 16-20, 2001 (Edsa 2).

Always propeace. As the archbishop of Manila, he held sway over more than 300 parishes and 70 parochial schools. At his call, each of them could easily produce 500 warm bodies, or a total of nearly 200,000. The flock could stay at the rallies indefinitely because they brought their provisions.

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Equally important, they marched to the beat of a single drummer. Indeed, they constituted the critical mass during demos. As a leader and shepherd, Cardinal Sin always exhorted his flock to be peaceful and nonviolent.

Despite being propeace, Cardinal Sin’s activism had critics in the Vatican. This internal dispute was not apparent during Edsa 1, but it surfaced silently during Edsa 2.

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Recall that Edsa 2 was triggered on Jan. 16, 2001, by the prosecutors’ walkout from the Senate impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada. To support the prosecutors, Cardinal Sin called the faithful to gather and mass at the Edsa Shrine.

The next day, Jan. 17, Msgr. Socrates Villegas, Cardinal Sin’s assistant (now archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines), phoned me. He said the papal nuncio, Msgr. Antonio Franco, on the directive of his Vatican superiors, asked Cardinal Sin to disperse the gathered faithful.

Church mediator. But the cardinal refused, preferring to resign if the Vatican insisted. To defuse the crisis, both the cardinal and the nuncio agreed to request me, in my capacity as a former member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, to be the mediator to help solve the dispute.

Agreeing to the request, I privately conferred with Monsignor Franco and his assistant, Msgr. Robinson Wijesinghe, on the following day, Jan. 18. The nuncio explained that the Vatican was concerned about the active participation of Cardinal Sin and several other bishops in the ongoing phenomenon at the Edsa Shrine and in other places.

His superiors warned him that activism was frowned upon in many countries, especially Vietnam, China and India. He said the civil authorities in those places were apprehensive that the bishops in their jurisdictions might replicate such conduct and challenge their authority.

We discussed many other topics, like the nature of impeachment, the votes and evidence needed, etc. But his main concerns were: (1) Was Estrada’s right to due process violated by the demand for his resignation, considering that he had not been given the opportunity to defend himself when the prosecutors walked out? And (2) was church-state separation violated by the clergy’s involvement in people power?

Due process. I replied that it’s true, due process requires us to hear before we condemn, to proceed upon inquiry and to render judgment only after trial. But this requirement assumes a priori that the judge is objective and unbiased.

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I did not say the Senate was biased, but I asked Monsignor Franco and his superiors to review the TV coverage of the trial and to determine for themselves whether the Senate—after refusing by a vote of 11-10 to open the so-called second envelope—was still an objective tribunal.

I explained that, obviously, the cardinal and the Philippine bishops had seen enough and had made their evaluations. Pulling them back and intervening at that point could plunge the nation into a chaotic and bloody revolution for which the Vatican, a foreign state, could be blamed. The net result would be a dismal defeat for peace and for the Church. The victors in any revolution, whether peaceful or bloody, dictate the flow of history. Indeed, history is written by the victors.

Church-state separation does not mean the state is anti-God. Quite the contrary, the state believes in one Lord as shown by the first line of the Constitution, “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God…” Also, the oath of the president and vice president ends with “So help me God.” Both chambers of Congress, the Cabinet and the Supreme Court preface their sessions with prayers.

Basically, separation requires the state to be neutral in the “competition” among religious groups. Hence, Congress cannot appropriate and the president cannot spend public funds to build a basilica for the exclusive use of one religious sect. Neither can the state promote the dogmas of another to the detriment of the rest. But the Constitution does not bar priests, as citizens, from holding public offices.

Doctrinally, the Church is stricter in observing church-state relationship. I agreed with Monsignor Franco that the hierarchy should prioritize the faith and morals of the flock over their secular activities. Hence, after People Power 2, the Church should reexamine its position and strengthen its primary function of re-evangelizing and re-pastoring.

Monsignor Franco ended by saying he would reflect on our conversation and report to his superiors. I was not told what he reported, but during the oath-taking at the Edsa Shrine on Jan. 20, he was seated at the front row. Upon seeing me, he whispered, “We have won!”

Just as Cardinal Sin retired in 2003, the archdiocese of Manila was reduced to about a fourth of its original size. Five dioceses (Caloocan, Cubao, Novaliches, Parañaque and Pasig) were carved out from it; only the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasay and San Juan remained. A low-profile conservative, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, was named in his place.

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TAGS: Catholic Church, Edsa 1, Edsa 2, Jaime cardinal sin
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