The unsinkable Catholic Church

President Rodrigo Duterte’s denigration of the Catholic Church is but a part of his idiotic ambition to destroy this 1,900-year-old institution.

I would not debate him on whether the Church is guilty of what he believes it does to deserve his invective condemnation. For, truly, the Church over the course of its centuries-old history has been mired with shameless misdeeds. What is lost in all this, however, is the weakness of some members of the clergy in fulfilling their commitment to God to lead others to holiness and truth as spiritual fathers and pastors. These failed pastors are the ones chipping at the Church’s very foundation.

But Duterte has crossed the line by saying that “God is stupid” and that he is unimpressed by Jesus because He had let Himself be crucified. These and other insults that Duterte has hurled against the Catholic Faith underscore his contempt of and hostility against Christ Himself. If he had directed these diatribes against Islam, he would surely have been marked for death. Duterte simply does not have the humility and kindness to respect other people’s beliefs.

He has urged the public to rob and murder bishops simply because they are, and rightly so, against his policy of killing people who are “suspected” of being involved in drugs. The bishops are rich, Duterte said, and deserve death. The president, however, has targeted only Catholic bishops, but remains silent about other religious figures who live lavishly and travel luxuriously in their privately owned jets.

Why then does Duterte continue to get high approval ratings when his utterances are usually affronts to human dignity and civility? I’m at a loss for a compelling explanation. Have the Filipino people completely lost their moral compass or been woefully desensitized to his vulgar, racist and sexist statements? Has Duterte made political gutter language acceptable in this home of the world’s third-largest Catholic population? Almost everything that comes out of his mouth seems like a slur on the basic values of humanity, and an unequivocal disavowal of morality. It is unadulterated lewdness—a product of a very sick mind. What about good governance? Duterte has little or none to show. Economy? The country is courting a slide back to being the sick man of Asia. Corruption? It has intensified during his watch.

I thought that the Church has lost its voice when Jaime Cardinal Sin passed away. It has failed to push back early on to stop the tide of Duterteism. In fact, the Church was partly responsible for putting Duterte in power.

I can vividly remember how the Catholic Church demonized former President Benigno S. Aquino III when PNoy stood pat on the Reproductive Health Act or the RH bill. There were even some bishops who threatened to excommunicate him. Shades of the Inquisition? Then there were the “Pajero Bishops,” who got the moniker because they allegedly got these sport-utility vehicles as “donations” during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who supported the Church on the RH bill. There are those who unfairly believe that the Catholic Church, much like the Supreme Court, is an Arroyo underling. The Church was partly responsible for the erosion of public confidence on PNoy and the Liberal Party. It rode on other issues against the so-called “yellows,” including the Mamasapano clash where 44 members of the Special Armed Forces died, and the Disbursement Acceleration Program controversy, which contributed hugely to the LP’s defeat in the last elections.

Now that the Catholic Church finds itself on the receiving end of Duterte’s rants, how can it demonize a crackpot who already thinks and acts like Lucifer, and is not even shy about it?

I am a Roman Catholic, and have no plans of denouncing my faith until I die. But there are moments in the Church’s history where it failed to live up to its own high moral standards. This is just my honest, objective and unflinching take on what went before all of us were born.

Take the practice of indulgences, for example, which refers to the partial or full remission of punishment for sins. A Catholic sinner will be absolved through confession, reciting prayers or doing charitable acts. By the Middle Ages, however, indulgences were abused all because of financial transactions. Certain bishops viewed indulgences as a get-rich-quick program. They would pressure an illiterate but wealthy person to be saved from eternal burning by forcing him to fork over cash for redemption. It got so bizarre that Martin Luther criticized it in his 95 Theses in 1517. A man named Johann Tetzel became so notorious in practicing this. Tetzel is credited for the abominable distich: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Surviving relatives who did not wish their departed loved ones to scorch in Purgatory paid for their “delivery” through indulgences. This led to the cancelation of the grants of indulgences by Pope Pius V in 1567. Such practice may not be un-biblical, but sinners view it as a “jail-free card.” They can sin all they want, then say a Hail Mary, and they’re good to go.

The Church used the forces of war, not Evangelism during the Crusades when it was trying to recapture Christian territories it lost to the Muslims. It was a long-drawn war which lasted for over 200 years. It is unfathomable how many people died during the conflict. The big letdown: It had the sanction of the Pope. The Crusade did not only justify the blood that was spilled. It was also called just, and the crusaders had been promised absolution for their sins and a secure place in heaven if they died.

The trial of Galileo Galilei—an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer—is one of the most scandalous moments in the Catholic history. Galileo through his own pet design for the refracting telescope theorized that Jupiter has moons, and Jupiter’s moons are at the center of the solar system, and Earth, like everything else nearby, orbits the Sun. His conclusion: The Earth is not the center. The Church didn’t want to hear any of this, and his theory deemed fervidly heretical. Galileo was finally brought before an Inquisition and forced under threat of excommunication and torture to “abjure, curse and detest” his discoveries, which, ironically, were also incorrect as Galileo taught that the Sun was the center of the universe—not just our solar system.

Of course, there was also Joan of Arc—she who believed that God had called her to lead the French in kicking the English out of France. She instigated an uprising in 1429, and led a successful relief force to the besieged city of Orleans.

She was executed for heresy not because she claimed to hear the voice of God, not because she defied and killed the English, but because she was said to have worn a man’s clothing while in prison. This was also forbidden, and thus punishable by being burned at the stake.

Now the Church is embroiled in one sex scandal after another. This is what Duterte is hoping to capitalize on as a counteroffensive on the Church dissent against his
administration.

But Duterte should realize that the Catholic Church has survived because it has an effective internal healing process. It takes time for the Church to atone for its mistakes, but it recognizes them and does the right thing to correct the wrong.

Duterte? I’d just quote what former politician and now columnist, Homobono Adaza said: “He’s just a pygmy.” How true. There are other bigger and much more influential giants who tried but failed to sink the unsinkable Catholic Church.

 

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