IT WAS only last week when the Catholic Church through the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) spoke about the issues confronting her. The people, me included, have been wondering about the long silence. In the statement presented through the CBCP Circular letter entitled “Conquering Evil with Good” based on the book of Romans, dated January 28, the Bishops broke their silence at last.
“Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice. We too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you.” This was the introductory statement. It was to admit that the period of silence amidst the various criticisms and attacks was long due which made people wonder what’s going on.
“Lately, we have also been on the receiving end of cruel words that pierce into the soul of the Catholic Church, like sharp daggers.” This sentence could describe the feelings of the faithful especially the Bishops in the course of the president’s tirades and other sources of attacks against the Church in addition to the killing of some priests.
Yet the Church, through this letter being read during homilies all over the Catholic Churches in the country, calls for the faithful to respond with silence and prayer. Clearly, this is not a call to retaliate. We have seen the maturity of the Church today compared to its olden image where the Church could not help but hit back to critics mainly because of its tempting and overwhelming power. Remember the excommunication days and tortures to alleged heretics. Joan of Arc, declared a hero after some time, was burned in behalf of the Church guilty verdict of her being a heretic, a non-believer.
The letter was careful not to identify people attacking the Church apparently to avoid being personal. The Church is wise to make it clear that this is not a fight against the president or to some number of people but to the general critics who wants to demoralize the Church.
This is a challenge to be taken in general and not against one or two persons. “But as far as we know, the freedom of expression does not include a license to insult other people’s faith, especially our core beliefs.” In the entirety of the letter, I think, this is the only statement that deviates to the very tranquil tone of the letter. This sentence, though, was followed by an apologetic statement.
“When people do not understand our essential doctrines as Roman Catholic Christians, we have also ourselves to blame. It could also mean we have failed in our preaching.”
Remember when Duterte mocked the Trinity doctrine? Or the belief on the saints and Pope by others belonging to other religions? But again, we see a progress here because the Church admits that there is a big problem in preaching its doctrines. We should expect a more robust evangelization and indoctrination to the faithful.
The CBCP responded the prevailing issue on sexual abuses, again, with an apology. “We bow in shame when we hear of abuses committed by some of (us)...” There were two sentences given to address this issue. Yes, brief. The first sentence says, “Like the leaders and members of any other human institution, no doubt, we, your bishops and priests have our own shares of failures and shortcomings as well.” This is an admission and it should feel right. The only thing I dislike in this sentence is putting the words “like the leaders and members of any other human institution...” I believe the Church is not like any other institution.
On illegal drugs, the CBCP clarified, “we are not against the government’s efforts to fight illegal drugs. It was when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered o mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers while the big time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free, that we started wondering about the direction this ‘drug war’ was taking. We have a solemn duty to defend our flock.”
The dignity of human being teaches that “no human being in this world deserves to be treated as “non-human.” On the lowering of age for criminal liability, “Children who get involved in crimes especially those being used do not deserve to be treated as criminals; they are victims that need to be rescued. We beg our country’s legislators to give the bills they are drafting some serious thinking...” It is clear the Church disagrees lowering the age of criminal liability.
To conclude, the statement says that “As members of God’s flock, we must learn to be brave, to stick together, and look after one another. This is the moment to be strong, wise, committed and a teaching moment to relearn what it means to be a Catholic Christian at this time. The tone of the letter, in my view, is like a mother telling her children to calm down and think like Mary taking all the words to herself, pondering over them.
The faithful are enjoined to pray and be calm in the midst of criticisms and attacks even though they pierce the heart. No hate, revenge, retaliation or whatsoever. Keep silent and pray.
The Church has spoken. Let it be heard and obeyed by the faithful for the peace of humankind and for the glory of God.