Contested Terrain

by Juan L. Mercado


“(October 11)  marked the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s opening”, Inquirer’s Michael  Tan noted.  We are a predominantly Catholic country. “ I’m surprised how little has been said in media about this  when the Church is going through such ferment”.

A  country fragmented into 7,012 islands at high tide moulds an insular mindset,  some  assert. Vision halt at  the seashore or expand to
a country or two.  From there, Overseas Filipino Workers send padalas or remittances home.  But are we blinded by  narrow clans ?

“For all the  trappings of  national government…we conduct our affairs pretty much in the manner of Lapu-Lapu,” the late historian Horacio de la  Costa wrote.  “(The) congressman, who, who moves around with bodyguards, is not much different from the datu  surrounded by retainers. This attitude “casts away national and pubic values,” the Jesuit scholar added. “(It) aggravates  the need for taking private measures to protect private interests.” 

A  Synod of 262 bishops  is now  reviewing  the “cargo of hope”  and letdowns  of Vatican II ( 1962-1965 ). Among  Synod fathers are Luis Tagle of Manila and Jose Palma of Cebu .

Vatican II  recast a faith claimed by a  billion people worldwide. (Eight out of 10 Filipinos are Catholics).  It  broadened the role of  laymen, stripped  obsolete trappings  and adopted  liturgy into vernacular. The  church turned away from internal concerns of Vatican I. Instead, it reached out to other  faiths, from Jews to Muslims,  But Vatican  II hopes shriveled  as a  Curia of bureaucrats  dragged heels. 

“Institutional innovations,  like diocesan pastoral councils,  were haphazardly implemented and underutilized. The Synod of Bishops  was stillborn. National  bishops’ conferences were subordinated to curial approval.  “They  never led to regular channels of communication between people and  hierarchy”, notes America magazine.

Transparency and accountability, whether for  financial or sexual improprieties, are norms of a just society. “The church must  cease to claim exemptions for itself …and must  not stand  outside scrutiny of its members.

Many Filipinos view all  these through prism of  family. Today’s  Synod of  “New Evangelization” overlaps with  the  October 21  canonization for  a 17 year old Filipino catechist  and six  others. Like  Lorenzo  Ruiz of  Binondo before him, Pedro Calungsod of  the Visayas  is  “bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh.”   We’ll  see a  fiesta to eclipse other fiestas.

“Reform  the church?”, asked Archbishop Angelo Roncalli.  “Is such a thing possible?” This son of  Italian sharecroppers was elected as a transition pope. Jolting  a sclerotic church to it’s founding fervor would  have to wait.

As  John XXIII, Roncalli, however, stunned many by calling out:  Apertura a  sinistra.  “Open the  windows” and  let fresh air in. Few foresaw the gales of  reform  that  Council  would unleash.  When  it closed  three years later, a transformed  institution  emerged:  one that  re-imaged the church  as “People of God, will  full participation of all the baptized, yet always in need of  reform. Council advisor Father Joseph  Ratzinger  defined it as  perennis reformatio . He repeated  the theme, as Benedict XVI.

Vatican II  reached out to other  faiths, from Jews to Muslims  and  built bridges  to  a world hurtling  into  a digital age. It  asserted it’s “prophetic role”,  smudged by cozy accommodation with assorted dictators.

“I have  bishops by their balls,”  Ferdinand Marcios  scoffed  when  Pope John Paul II set a  visit was  for January 1981. Marcos announced cosmetic  lifting of martial law.  Imelda decked out  the Coconut Place. But for the pontiff  politely declined. Instead, he lodged at the sparse nunciature in Pasay.

“Even  in  exceptional  conditions the state can not claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded”, John Paul II told  a poker-faced Ferdinand Marcos  in his January  17, 1981  speech at Malacanang  Palace. 

On this same visit,  John  Paul  beatified  Lorenzo Ruiz at Luneta.  And in Bacolod, he pressed for an end to exploitation of sacadas. “This is war,” fumed a Negros sugar planter.

After  February 1986’s rigged  elections, Marcos declared  he won over  Corazon Aquino.  “A government that assumes or retains power by fraudulent means has no moral basis”, the Catholic Bishops Conference said in a pastoral letter. It called for  active resistance of evil by peaceful means.”  People Power sent  the dictator into exile.

Worldwide, there has been an exponential growth in  educated Catholics. Priest-theologians are a minority.  In the years ahead, pastoring will, to a great extent,  consist in fostering fuller participation of  this  educated laity.

Controversies here mirror  the Curia’s resistance. An eminent canon lawyer, the bishop of Tagbilaran, said over Radio Veritas.   Those who support  the Reproductive Health bill ( HB4244 ) court  ex-communication. That’d cast President Benigno Aquino into exterior darkness. That goes for UP   demographer  Mercedes Concepcion — one of 42 scientists Pope Paul  VI  asked to serve in the Humanae Vitae panel.

The Second Plenary Council here taught that religious freedom to advocate a cause may not be used to deny that same freedom to  those  who disagree, constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas recalled. The Bishop of  Antipolo turned livid.  

“The legacy of Vatican II remains in dispute”,  America magazine adds.  “Demands of our own age call for corrections of deviations.  We move in contested terrain.”


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