“THE Truth Will Set You Free” is the latest pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. At first glance, its main content focuses on the preparations for the upcoming elections. A much deeper reading of the text, however, reveals that the bishops are worried about a growing subculture that has seriously damaged our values. Among others, the letter mentions historical revisionism and the proliferation of fake news.
Like the other CBCP documents (in the past), the letter was received by some Catholics with a certain degree of open-mindedness. However, some quarters were not happy with the letter’s tenor. They find it too partisan or biased. This sentiment comes from those who would prefer a Church that is “neutral” in politics and “charitable” to all, including those who have serious accountabilities to our people. I know in fact of some members of the clergy who have openly criticized the bishops “for causing great division among the people.” The bishops, accordingly, should “do some rethinking [of their position] before things would get worse.”
I remember that when the priest read the letter last Sunday, some churchgoers (in the Mass which I attended) showed discomfort in their body language. A woman, some two rows in front of me, started chatting with her husband and made faces when “Edsa People Power” was mentioned. Her demeanor was more than enough for me to know that she was not comfortable with terms like “troll farms,” “virus of lies,” and “fake news” included or mentioned in the liturgy. Finally, she left. “Nag walkout!”
Should the Church not say anything and be neutral in the field of politics? This is an old issue which refuses to die. The answer to the question would really depend on where you are in the spectrum. For although we belong to one Body of Christ, we do not have the same location in the socioeconomic and political landscape. Let’s admit it, even within the Church, there are clergy and laypeople who would prefer to be conservative on political issues but more vocal in situations where government policy or legislation would touch marriage and sexuality.
It is just “too good to be true” for any Catholic, especially a member of the clergy, to “desire,” “dream” and “pray” for unity, when in fact Philippine Church history has been replete with divisions and divisiveness. When was the last time that the bishops received a “full-blown” support from the lay or even the clergy in their pronouncement? When the bishops protested the re-imposition of capital punishment during the term of President Estrada, the late Fr. Sonny Ramirez, a Dominican, openly disagreed. When the CBCP and the so-called pro-lifers within the Church took a strong opposition against the RH Bill during the term of Noynoy Aquino, certain Jesuits and theologians expressed dissent. So, what is new and what else is there to be afraid of with a Church that does not have a “uniformed” stand?
Are we saying that there is “no unity” within the Church or that we as Catholics would be promoters of dissent and division? Certainly not. But as a Church that lives and believes in the value of conscience, we are all free to exercise freedom within the bounds of moral and ethical responsibility. Where there is a need for the shepherds to “speak out” even if it is not a “popular” opinion, it must in the spirit of its prophetic role.
There is a difference between being prudent and being afraid. There is a difference between being charitable and being congenial or pleasant. The problem with some Catholics is that they want a Church that speaks about things that make them “feel good” and nothing more. For some, the terms “love” and “forgiveness” are easy to mumble as an empty “Praise the Lord.”
Some Catholics would like their Church merely to be a service provider (of their baptism, communion, and funeral), not a teacher of the truth that will set them free.