Pious talk

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014


NO AMOUNT of talk will cut it. But more talk is exactly what the head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged bishops and clergy to do to reform corrupt Philippine society. Instead of more and stronger denunciations of corruption, CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas tells bishops and priests to talk “more about the beauty of integrity and honesty.”

This supposed emulation of Pope Francis’s fresh approach to the Church’s mission of shepherding its flock is hailed by some as a liberal shift in the Church. For many others, however, including this writer, the CBCP head’s exhortation completely misses both the content and form of the Pope’s approach to its mission in the world.

On content, Pope Francis, is unequivocal in advocating for “structural” justice and charity. Beyond mere alms giving, the Pope urges Catholics, in no uncertain terms, to work to reform social structures (relationships) that are unjust or uncharitable. Both are destructive of the dignity of a human person whom God has endowed with inalienable rights.

On method, Pope Francis has been modelling (not mouthing off) a simple and humble approach for shepherds to adopt to get close to their flocks. He has discarded papal regalia and privilege in favor of a simple lifestyle which often finds him in the company of the underprivileged of this world. Bishops and priests, on the other hand, with few admirable exceptions (like the late Archbishop Teofilo Camomot), are more often seen in the company of their rich benefactors.

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Philippine society is corrupt because its leaders refuse to be transparent and accountable to the people they insist on ruling instead of serving. If bishops and priests want to help reform society, they have to stop being rulers of dioceses and parishes and give an example of transparency and accountability in serving their flock instead.

It is common knowledge that bishops and priests are more secretive than transparent in administering dioceses and parishes. They also refuse to be accountable to their flock whom they lord upon with the absolute authority of someone who feels answerable to God alone.

More than denouncing, more than pious talk, bishops and priests need to model transparency and accountability in governance. Only then can they denounce with effect the lack of transparency and accountability in government that comprise the subsoil for corruption. Only then can talk about the “beauty of integrity and honesty” sound not as hollow as it does today.

Action on behalf of justice and modelling transparency and accountability in serving the faithful are what corrupt Philippine society could use to climb out of the snake pit it has fallen into. Pious talk will not do it.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 09, 2014.

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