In defense of Our Priests and Bishops

By Asuncion David Maramba
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In a letter to the editor, Francisco Alcuaz lamented the “lack of activism” of Catholic Church leaders. The last quarter of the year carried around half a dozen such reactions and an editorial (Nov. 28) chiding the Church for ambivalence, extreme caution, confounding tolerance, stasis, etc; inviting almost irreverent remarks like “the sheep ain’t lost, the shepherds are” and “out-of-this world Church leaders.” Especially grating to reactors was the “No” of 18 bishops from Mindanao to question Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s moral ascendancy to remain in office.

But let’s look more kindly at the situation and give credit where it is due. Many priests and bishops realize that the landscape has changed. There is little of the aura suggested by words like bucolic, simple or tranquil. Our land is being ravaged by corruption, poverty, inequity and waves of violence.

Now and henceforth, prelates know that the call of the hour is works of justice -- difficult, risky, controversial, susceptible to miscalculations, with little visible or immediate results; so unlike feel-good works of charity which reap praise and gratitude. Love and more love may be the never-ending admonition of the Church but justice is love incarnate.

Gather any clutch of newspapers during crisis times under Ferdinand Marcos, of which Jaime Cardinal Sin’s intervention was the pinnacle; under Cory Aquino, under subsequent presidencies and under President Arroyo and you will read of priests and bishops taking a stand on justice and justice-related issues: elections, gambling, land reform, human rights, the pardon of prisoners, mining, education, environment, the Commission on Elections, press freedom, etc. It has been this way since the 1970s and way, way back with Father Hogan, S.J., and Ateneo de Manila University’s best students on the labor front.

But you ask; why do most of them balk before “activism” and why don’t they heave all-together-now with an “official” Church stand? There may be three reasons for this. First, the Catholic Church as a rule is “hanggang sulat at dasal” [limited to writing and praying]. There will be pastoral letter after pastoral letter and calls for moral change and prayer. “Pray for the poor.” “Pray for our leaders.” “Pray for peace.” “Bishops are limited to articulations. They can encourage people to move but they will not move because this is no longer their line.” They are advocates -- of justice, truth, virtues, faith, morality -- and may not move from letter to action. Unfortunately, without active and assiduous follow-through, ecclesiastical exhortations have short lives and no bite.

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