Thursday, June 30, 2016

A "Powerless" Church

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has built up a reputation of being a powerful and influential institution. During Martial Law, she was the only remaining institution that could stand up to Marcos' dictatorial rule.  Church people were at the forefront of the resistance against the dictatorship - providing alternative source of information when media was suppressed,  monitoring human rights violations, organizing protest rallies and collaborating with other groups and movements fighting for freedom. The Church had a big part in the ouster of Marcos at EDSA a few weeks after the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter denouncing electoral fraud and after Cardinal Sin appealed to the people through Radio Veritas to go to EDSA to defend Ramos, Enrile and the RAM who were holed in Camp Crame after an unsuccessful coup attempt.  The iconic image of EDSA I was the multitude of people, including priests and nuns, bringing crosses, statues of saints and rosaries, facing the tanks and soldiers. People power was linked with Church power. The Church continued to exercise an influential role in the post- Marcos era and even in the ouster of a corrupt and immoral president and the ascension into power of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The power of the Church was projected in the image of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo being sworn into office at the EDSA shrine before Chief Justice Davide, with Cardinal Sin and the Papal Nuncio in attendance.

Fifteen years later after EDSA 2, with the ascendancy of a new president, Rodrigo Duterte, much has changed. It appears that the power of the Church has waned. The Church is now perceived by many as powerless and lacking influence or political clout.  This was already apparent during the Aquino presidency with the passage of the Reproductive Health Law.  The recent national elections of  have made this even more evident.  Duterte considered the recent elections as a plebiscite daring Catholics to choose between electing him or obeying the appeal of the Church to vote according to their conscience and reject candidates whose behavior are contrary to the moral teachings of the Church. Duterte's landslide victory was regarded by him as a defeat of the Church - a proof of the powerlessness and waning influence of the Church. The Iglesia ni Cristo - whose leaders can dictate to the members who to vote for -- appears to be even more powerful. Thus, Duterte could insult and bully the Church without fear or restraint despite the Church's offers of prayers and vigilant collaboration. Duterte does not have to worry about any church-backed movement to oust him. He can do anything he likes without any vigorous resistance from the Church - whether it is to carry out his election promise of more extrajudicial killings, re-impose death penalty, give the deposed corrupt dictator a hero's burial, full implementation of he RH law, etc. In fact, he can count on the support or acquiescence of majority of Catholics - including many priests and nuns - who voted and campaigned for him in spite insulting the pope and promising to destroy the Church.

So what accounts for the Church's apparent powerlessness?

Even if the Church membership accounts for over 80% of the population, the Church is not a monolithic organization whose members are all actively living according to her teachings and obeying Church's leadership. Church unity - especially in the political sphere - is non-existent. There is no such thing as a Catholic vote. The majority of the Church members are nominal and seasonal Catholics who are either ignorant of the Church's teachings or who ignore these or are just selectively follow whatever suits them. The results of the recent elections would give the impression that the majority do not follow their conscience, or have no conscience - lacking a sense of right and wrong. For many there is nothing wrong with killing, stealing, cheating, lying, committing adultery. An appeal to conscience is futile.

The CBCP can come out with pastoral letters about these issues but very few will listen - not even the Catholic politicians who are products of Catholic educational institutions. There are many lay movements in the Church but they are simply pious organizations lacking in social engagement. Majority of our Basic Ecclesial Communities are still gospel sharing groups or liturgical assemblies incapable of inspiring personal conversion and mobilizing for social transformation.

One cannot entirely blame the majority of nominal Catholics for lacking in conscience and for ignoring the Church teachings. The leadership of the Church - the clergy and religious - and our Catholic institutions must admit a lot of shortcomings. We continue our maintenance mode rather than adopt a more missionary strategy. Our efforts and programs in new evangelization and catechesis lack vigor, creativity and effectiveness and do not lead to personal conversion and formation of conscience. We are not exercising enough our prophetic vocation nor do we empower or inspire the laity to do so. The clergy have become less credible due to allegations of luxurious lifestyle, financial anomalies and sexual misconduct. Even if these are the faults of a few, these have been sensationalized by the media and have increased anti-clericalism. These can become a hindrance to carrying out our prophetic mission under the new regime.

The apparent powerlessness of the Church can be blessing in disguise. It should make the Church  more humble and devoid of arrogance. The Church cannot influence or dictate what policies and laws that the government will adopt. The Church cannot be a power-broker. All it can be is to be a powerless servant and prophetic Church. All that we can do is to vigorously carry out our mission of new evangelization and catechesis and focus on the formation of conscience, empower the laity, form communities of missionary disciples in our parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities capable of confronting evil and transforming society in the future. In doing so, the nominal and seasonal Catholics will hopefully be transformed as genuine disciples of Christ. All these can be possible with a renewed clergy.

The real power of the Church will ultimately come not from its political clout or influence but from the power of the cross, the power of the Spirit that will renew the face of  the earth.

1 comment:

Raymond Daniel Cruz said...

Dear Fr. Picardal,

I agree with everything you said and therefore would have to beg for a qualification in your title: "A Powerless, yet PEACEful Church." We do not want to claim any power that is not from God but we can share the PEACE that Christ has given to His Church. With this PEACE there is real power. Let us then be known for what we stand for and not what we are against of. Our BECs can all be instruments of that PEACE no matter how small and powerless they might look like. Promote Unity and Plant more BECs, Equip Servant-Leaders in the Community, Assist the Poor in their neighborhood, Care for the Sick and promote Hygiene in their Barangays and Educate the next generation in Day Care centers. Let every BEC do whatever PEACE they can, wherever they are, and involve other families especially the youth. I propose that you call for A Season of BEC Mission for Social Transformation from September (Opening of the National Laity WeeK) up to November, as we prepare to enter The Year of the Parish in 2017. Hoping to get in touch with you soon. Jun Cruz of LAIKO