Rude Awakening

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The Supreme Court affirms the constitutionality of the RH Law, except for some specific provisions. Whatever it is, the RH Law goes into effect, maybe watered down, but nevertheless has changed a landscape forever. It signals, too, more changes in that same landscape, as in the reality of divorce everywhere except in the Philippines.

With the RH Law and the anticipated push for divorce in the Philippines, the domestic hierarchy of Catholic Church will be rudely awakened. The rude awakening, though, will not make the more conservative in religious or lay groups to roll over and submit. I anticipate that they will bring the divorce issue to confrontational struggle again.

The ironic part is that the rude awakening was not necessary, will not be necessary, because nothing new is being introduced that the rest of the worlds had not heard of before, or actually already doing. The rude awakening that the Catholic Church in the Philippines is experiencing is a matter of choice. It has had decades of weakening influence because of emerging global consciousness, but it chose not to either adjust or counter it with effective measures.

I cannot blame the old leaders of the Philippine Catholic Church. The Vatican itself was the first model of deafness and blindness. How else can the Church lose her primacy in a whole continent called Europe if it had been sensitive and responsive?  And while the painful reality of Catholicism in Europe now largely more in name than in practice, if we are to judge by rather empty Churches, was there for all to witness and learn from, the Church hierarchy in the Philippines remained unwilling to change.

The decision of the Supreme Court was a disaster for the Church. It was not a win-win situation, not at all. There is now an RH law where there was none.  There is a now an RH Law when the Church had been resisting its passage for over 14 years. That the Supreme Court denied certain provisions is not a win, it just denied a total loss. But imagine the years ahead and it is easy to see the same provisions with amendments pass rather than what had been approved to be later declared unconstitutional.

The mindset of the world has a trajectory. If some of us disagree with what that trajectory means for our moral and social life, then changing the trajectory needs instant and persistent counter-action. It will be extremely difficult because the trajectory is set, and utterly impossible to go back to what was lost.  How unfortunate, if not stupid, to have one rude awakening after another.

I mentioned divorce because that is what is next in the agenda. A divorce bill will not be easily passed despite the establishment of an RH Law. There is a very different nuance to the divorce issue, and the Catholic Church in the Philippines can delay it if she has good advisers. However, it is quite improbable for the Church hierarchy to ask and heed advice, because even that means a fundamental shift in perspective.  Good advice can come from some of those whom the Church and her rabid followers have already condemned as anti-life.

The downward spiral of the Catholic Church in the Philippines is a reality. But it can be arrested, even reversed. It will take great humility and intelligence to do so, but it can done. Those who have taken a firm stand against the fundamentalists of the Church are not leaving, just not following. And while they have not left, it would be wise not to push them to the door.

That is precisely what Pope Francis has been doing. Singlehandedly, he has opened a big window through which hope flows towards the despairing and the resentful. And he has quieted a Church where some bishops had been so eager to say hurtful words, start a quarrel, and act with arrogance. It is the Pope’s clear view of his own institution that had been wracked with sex scandal after sex scandal and whose coffers had spawned corruption among its own financial administrators. That view has made the Pope put his foot down on hypocritical rhetoric that made ridiculous all holier-than-thou pronouncements.

If the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the Philippines will follow the lead of Pope Francis, and I know there are many younger leaders in the religious who are eager to, then a wonderful rebirth is in the offing. There is so much opportunity, so many fields where loving and healing is so needed by a people long confused and abused by the behavior of their societal leaders. Poverty has defined the Filipino while abundance defines the Philippines. It is time to correct that anomaly, and the moral authority of the Church can show the way.

The poverty of Filipinos follows the pattern of other colonized people whose lands were seized by foreign masters. Centuries later, the people remained poor because the lands were never returned to their stewardship. The Catholic Church in the Philippines benefited from the foreign masters, including receiving lands that the never was theirs to give. In the face of so much poverty, the Church can show both justice and generosity.

All these years, the good that the Church has done often had been neutralized by the public scandal of some priests and bishops. The example of Pope Francis can be followed, a transparent life of simplicity but generous in his service to God and man. From master to servant, the path of public service – no institution can do this better than the Church.

Like any person, there is a choice. There can be no more reason for any rude awakening, not when the Church is with the people in daily living. This is a special moment of change in our country. Which way will the Catholic Church go?

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