The Church Has Lost Her Dominance

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I am pro-life. Who isn’t? I am pro-choice. Who isn’t? Why, then, am I being forced by the contrasting stand of Church and State to choose between what I like and what I like? I like life, lots of it. I want choices, lots of it.  Why can’t I have both?

Two sides have quarreled loudly and vociferously by one claiming to be pro-life and the other pro-choice. Wow, life versus freedom. If I am to go by what I read, and hear in discussions between many individuals who may, or may not, know about what they are talking about, there is supposed to be a pharmaceutical lobby with US AID support on one hand and threats of excommunication and Church displeasure on the other.

All throughout my adult life, I have learned how life is the nature of all things, that its sustenance and perpetuation if the fundamental pattern of existence. Everything about life points to its character of eternity, that the cycle of life and death as we call it is really about life and re-birth. It is my understanding that with the indestructibility of energy is the clear affirmation of the indestructibility of life.

If one believes in a divine Being and his or her omnipotence, then one believes in a creation by that Being that is minutely, and in grandness, precise and intricate, with all parts having an individual purpose to serve a greater and a total whole. If one does not believe in it, then a counterpart perspective of at least an intelligent universe with an apparent order exists; and within it, human life operates. The great conflict would then be between one who believes in a divine and omnipotent Being and one who does not.

For most of human history, there appears to be a modus vivendi between Church and State. If the two find themselves at odds, it is more like a spat between spouses who try to dominate one another knowing that each cannot, except temporarily. Examining human history shows that there have been conflicts, but by far, there has been much more intimacy.  It has been, for all intents and purposes, an exciting marriage.

I approach the present conflict over the RH Bill as something temporary and simply not enough to sever a relationship that has stood the test of time. There have been instances of serious differences, many of them ending in violence.  The Church had hundreds of years of the Inquisition which spanned many popes, and which martyred, without meaning to, the Jose Rizal of Filipinos, the writer who created Padre Damaso and Dona Vitorina.

Because the Church has lasted as long as she has despite the unjustifiables and the indefensibles, she probably would do so much longer. And the State is defined less than its peoples but by the highlights of history and by the radical personalities that blaze trails or destroy them.

It does seem that State have the upper hand today, to the consternation of the Church. There are few theocracies left compared to countries who govern without the religious allowed to intervene. Europe is one clear example. It used to be that the Catholic Church dominated the whole of Europe. Today, it hardly dominates anyone in Europe.

If the hierarchy of the Church in the Philippines does not awaken to patterns of history, it will be overwhelmed by it and will witness within a short period a dramatic shift of governance demanding, and getting, independence from the Church.  If the Vatican and what it represents still believe that it will govern and lead the Catholic Church of the Philippines, it will lose dominance because it never learned to keep dominance in Europe.

The Church hierarchy must realize that the emergence of democracy, and its march towards greater expression, threatens the blind obedience that had long been the main weapon of the Church. The virtue of faith, if promoted by lesser minds, will make its compliance much faster if bishops and priests call on obedience even with doubts surrounding it, effectively making that obedience blind.

On the other hand, democracy, while a new kid on the block in the history of governments, is definitely more appealing because it shares power and resources among its residents – contrasting deeply with the historical dominance of a very few over the very many. Theocracies, monarchies, and oligarchies have been unfair or unkind to the majority – and the Church played footsies with the governing elite all the way. Democracy is turning the table, yet its fundamental soundness and tendency to give equitable value to all reverses a lifestyle that the Church had long been used to.

In a country like the Philippines that experienced colonization, it is to be expected that a deep resentment has built up over the centuries against the foreigners who ruled. In ways more subtle, it is to be expected that the resentment affects the Church as well.  In the early instances of rebellion against the rule of Spain, the color of religion or a belief system marked the protest actions.

It is fortunate for the Church that her hierarchy is not the component that has endeared Filipinos to her. Rather, it has always been the lowly priests and nuns, who, by their daily, consistent sacrifice and service to their communities, have held the laity together pliant and obedient to the hierarchy. The growth of the population of the laity compared to the growth of the religious, however, will lessen the reach of the true heroes of the Church. It is ironic that the population growth protected by the Church is what helps erode her traditional control.

The Philippines will go the way of its colonizers, Europe and America. If that means more choices under democratic environments, then that is what it will be. The Philippines will go the way of the Vatican. Without any dramatic change in both attitude and style, the Vatican will lose the Philippines as it lost Europe.

The Church has used fear, it has used force, yet lost. It may try to use attraction, may try to raise its credibility, it may try to be the voice more of conscience rather than edict. It is not too late, but it is very late.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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