As the death toll of the government’s war on drugs reach over twenty-five thousand after two years, one of the questions frequently asked is: “why are many priests silent?” Day after day, the mass media report and show images of extra-judicial killings of suspected users and pushers perpetrated by police and by death squads. Yet, many if not most of the members of the clergy – with a few exceptions - remain silent even as the CBCP came out with several pastoral letters the one of which was supposed to be read in churches all over the Philippines. So, how can the silence of many priests be explained?
Based on my own personal observation and from what I have heard, there are many reasons for this. For many priests who view their priesthood exclusively in sacramental or cultic terms, speaking out or denouncing evil perpetrated by those in power is not part of the priestly ministry. They think their sole duty is to say Mass and administer the sacraments. They regard their ministry as purely spiritual and reject any involvement in the temporal sphere – especially on issues that they think are political in nature. So the extra-judicial killings, the abuses, corruption and criminality within the government and the police are not their concern. After all, there is separation between Church and State.
There are priests who are not aware of these killings, the abuse of power and the injustices. They live in their own world of comfort and luxury -- within the ambit of the church and the rectory. They do not know and do not care about what’s happening around them. They are far from their poor flock. They are blind and deaf to the suffering and evil around them. So naturally they are dumb – they cannot and do not speak out.
There are priests who support these killings or turn a blind eye. They think that this is acceptable for the common good. This is the only way to solve the problem of drug addiction. Our country needs a strong leader who can save our country. They believe that he has the political will to bring about change in our land – to bring peace, to eradicate poverty, eliminate corruption and protect the environment. That is why they campaigned and voted for the president and continue to support him. They were even proud to show pictures of their iron fist salute (complete with baller) on Facebook. These priests are often annoyed and angry when the CBCP comes up with pastoral letters that they judge as critical of the present government. They believe in the official reports that those killed fought back and the government has nothing to do with the death squads.
There are priests who are afraid that if they speak out, the president will hit back - below the belt - and expose the sexual abuses of the clergy and be called hypocrites. Others are afraid that they could be in the hit list of the death squads and martyred if they speak out.
So there many reasons why many priests – even many bishops -- are silent. Perhaps, these could be the same reasons why many religious and lay-faithful are also silent.
If this continues, the bodies will continue to pile up and reach over 70,000 victims by the end of Duterte’s term. The other problems – such as poverty and corruption will not be addressed. As the CBCP letter reminds us: “to consent and keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it.”
Let us pray that someday the priests who are silent will be able to see the evil around them, find their voice and have the courage to exercise their prophetic ministry – to form the moral conscience of their flock so that they may recognize and denounce the manifestation of evil and the culture of death and to announce the Gospel of life and freedom. Let us pray they may become good shepherds, ready to offer their lives for the flock.