MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/23 January) – No other foreign dignitary has earned as much adulation as Pope Francis had during his visit on January 15-19, which is quite understandable in that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious grouping in this country. Sadly, that’s where Philippine media – or at least, the majority of our kind – focused on before, during and after the visit, forgetting the other issues related to the Pope’s coming and their impact on our lives.
For one thing, the media failed to see that the visit came on the heels of a Philippine church that has been rattled by recent challenges to its moral authority. The Supreme Court last year upheld the Reproductive Health Law, a development that was unthinkable over a decade ago, when the bishops felt assured they could always shoot down policies perceived to be contrary to church teachings. Such decision, and the law on which it was based, shattered the myth that the church can always have its way [in policymaking].
It may appear puzzling that while churches in the Philippines remain full during Sundays, the trend of secularization has spread among Catholics. Gone are the days of blind submission to sectarian dogmas. In fact, gone are the days of reverential fear for the pulpit, if the case of Carlos Celdran were an indication. In short, we’re in an era where church authority has come under question minus the deadly Inquisition, although the court acted like Torquemada by convicting Celdran for “offending religious feeling”.
True, Pope Francis declared he came here primarily to empathize with Yolanda victims. I personally believe he is sincere in that respect, and for that we should be thankful.
His visit however must also be viewed within the larger context of a church that is: (1) locally and globally struggling to maintain a semblance of control over a flock that has become increasingly disillusioned with scandals and corruption committed by priests and bishops alike; and (2) in the case of the Philippines, trying to recover lost ground in the arena of policymaking related to family relations.
Not a few priests and lay leaders in fact have voiced fears that after the RH Law the next battle would be the issue of divorce. This is the only country in the world where divorce is not allowed, and the Philippine church will do all it can that it remain as such. If only for this, Pope Francis devoted much of his time exhorting the faithful to protect the family, an admonition that serves as caution not only against welcoming divorce into the country’s legal system but also against the use of artificial contraception in family planning.
Make no mistake about the pope’s reported pronouncement that parents should not breed like rabbits as a sign of surrender to artificial contraception as an option for couples. In as far as reproductive rights are concerned, Pope Francis has not abandoned – and in all likelihood will not abandon – Humanae Vitae as the Vatican’s guide for the faithful in practicing birth control. His statement carries the presumption that family planning methods must be consistent with this encyclical.
However, the subtexts of this and other pronouncements by Pope Francis may not be visible to those who view his visit as simply a fatherly act to comfort an anguished flock, particularly the people of Tacloban. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)