CAUTION: To better appreciate this piece you have to re-read Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Covid-19 has been called many names like corrector, reminder, and teacher. It is all that and more. Above all, it shows up the failings of society’s two biggest institutions, the government and the Catholic Church; weaknesses and failings that have plagued government since Independence Day and the Catholic Church since the time of the friars.
When this crisis is over, government will surely not lack for critics that will badmouth it into learning the lessons of Covid-19 such as urban planning, housing, and an efficient public health system. And because it gets its mandate from the people, it will somehow lend half an ear to critics and show signs of learning if only to get people’s votes.
Mass media will, as usual, get into the picture and sensationalize everything for ratings, likes, and even simple clicks on their stories to attract advertising money that keeps networks high above water financially. Like media now are having a field day sowing fear and panic by reporting only the downside of both the pandemic and the government’s response to it.
The Catholic Church, however, is an entirely different story. It claims to get its mandate from God, hence, accountable to Him alone. Its leaders are not elected but appointed by God’s top representative on earth, the Pope. From that lofty perch it has promoted a culture of fear and unquestioning acceptance of the teachings and practices of the clerical elite that govern it.
Thus, the faithful are mostly afraid to criticize the Church and point out the failings of its leaders. They must see the wrong of it but no Church-going Catholic dares speak up, for instance, about the continuing commercialization of the Sacraments and the Church’s failure to account for the sales. Mass media have also allowed the institution to fly under the radar and escape detection. Thus, the Church gets more admiration than it deserves.
We have the most number of poor people whose poverty is arguably caused by the corruption and injustice of fellow Catholics in business and in government. Philippine Catholicism has failed to teach us the basics of what it means to be a Christian all these 500 years. But now the virus reminds us Christianity is in the heart, not in elaborate Church rituals.
The Catholic Church is not exactly naked as the emperor in Andersen’s story. It is, however, wearing the same clothes the friars wore. It badly needs to put on new clothes appropriate for the times. But that will never happen as long as we continue to blindly admire, like the bystanders in the emperor’s parade, the ornate medieval clothes it is wearing.