Sunday, April 27, 2008


Nobility versus hypocrisy
By Jose Ma. Montelibano
First Posted 01:16:00 04/25/2008

"If Satan appears to me and gives me money, I will accept the money and spend it all for the poor. It is not the practice of the Church to ask donors where their donations come from. Our duty is to make sure all donations go to the poor. The devil remains ... my enemy but I will use his resources to feed the poor." — Jaime Cardinal Sin, Oct. 25, 2000, defending the Catholic Church's acceptance of a total of P181 million in donations from the government casino firm Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) since 1998.

In an early-September 2005 column, Conrad de Quiros wrote that after criticisms about the Church receiving Pagcor funds, the then outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Bishop Fernando Capalla, said, "The principle of morality does not apply in this situation. There is nothing wrong with accepting money from gambling operations so long as the money goes directly to the poor."

Quoting Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Bishop Capalla then said, "I'd rather be criticized than let the poor die of sickness and hunger."

The three most senior and influential personalities of the Catholic Church hierarchy have been consistent in their pronouncements about the primacy of the work for the poor. It must be that their whole spiritual and pastoral experience grounds them to the very mission for which Christ was sent to earth by His Father, and the very criteria by which all human beings, most especially Christians, will be judged at the end of time.

All Catholics with interest in their faith know the guidance of the Church hierarchy through the public pronouncements of the late Cardinal Sin, the former president of the CBCP, Bishop Capalla, and the famous Bishop of Cebu, Cardinal Vidal. Thus, it makes it all the suspect that Bishop Gabriel Reyes as head of LAIKO in the Philippines will choose to forget the guidance of the major pastoral leaders of Filipinos and seek an opinion of Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko of the Vatican. Feigning ignorance or forgetfulness of a principle that all his colleagues collectively use to justify their receiving of funds from less than clean sources, Bishop Reyes finally gets Cardinal Rylko to state that Gawad Kalinga should not enter into a partnership with pharmaceutical firms who produce anti-life products.

In news reports that give as basis private communication between Cardinal Rylko, Bishop Reyes, and Couples for Christ executive director Joe Tale, who incidentally is also Gawad Kalinga board chairman, it was headlined that the Vatican admonishes and chastises Gawad Kalinga's "overemphasis on social work." The statement is not only shocking, but utterly absurd. It is, in fact, quite perverted because of the fact that it comes from the Catholic Church as orchestrated by a bishop from the Philippines.

The story of poverty and corruption in our homeland is not anymore fresh news, only the intermittent introduction of new faces in deep pain from the ranks of the poor, or the new ways by which those in power manipulate the siphoning of billions from the treasury to personal pockets. What is generally known but not so talked about is the participation, by commission or omission, of the Catholic Church in causing and perpetuating the situation of poverty and corruption. A few opinion writers like Conrad de Quiros do take occasional potshots at the hypocrisy of some bishops, but there are not many more.

Because of the same reluctance to taint the religious despite solid reasons for doing so, the Catholic Church in the United States finally was forced in several legal settlements to pay more than a billion dollars to victims of sexual abuse committed by priests and bishops. For a very long time, these sexual abuses were hidden from public knowledge, many of them denied, in fact, and the guilty ones were allowed to go unpunished and even promoted in some instances. But wrongdoing is more easily detected and exposed today, unfortunately not from the exercise of higher values or the practice of Catholicism but from the power of technology that is steadily forcing everything to be transparent.

The actuation of Bishop Gabriel Reyes is suspect because his name had already been reported in another controversy affecting Couples for Christ (CFC) last year. Seen clearly by the hundreds of thousands of CFC members as a partisan supporter of a breakaway splinter group, Bishop Reyes has done much to damage the image of the Church to these Catholics who do much more in living out their fate than most others who can claim membership only by name and by ritual. Mainstream CFC has remained quiet, matching what they see as duplicity of authority by an outer show of respect and obedience which is just as false. Leaders of organizations of the laity are quickly taught that honesty and courage can be dangerous while compromise and hypocrisy can get you there faster.

Gawad Kalinga, though, need not listen to Bishop Gabriel Reyes. Its own experience with this Bishop of Antipolo is another story in itself and reserved for another day. Gawad Kalinga is a secular organization, an independent juridical body, and is Catholic, not by law but by choice, because most of its officers, workers, volunteers and partners are Catholics who strive to be more authentic than their pastors. Gawad Kalinga is not a subsidiary of CFC or submitted to it by legal requirement. That Gawad Kalinga is identified with CFC is natural and beneficial because two independent bodies have become almost like one from a shared history and shared values. The law created them separately and treats them separately, but a common membership bonds the two entities powerfully.

It is an emerging reality, though, that Gawad Kalinga will expand well beyond CFC. Its nature is ecumenist, nonjudgmental, multi-sectoral, inclusive yet deeply anchored on faith in God, love of neighbor and sacrifice for country. Most know, but do not mind, that Gawad Kalinga is Catholic in its perspective—the Catholic who heeds calls from the Pope for ecumenism and rejects temptations towards fundamentalism and spiritual bigotry. In Gawad Kalinga, Catholicism is not preached, it is witnessed. Very soon, millions more will see, will understand, and will be part of Gawad Kalinga.

Pope Benedict XVI has just affirmed the Gawad Kalinga way by reaching out to the most anti-life nation and accepting the welcome of the most anti-life president, both anti-life by Catholic Church definition. The Pope affirmed the primacy of engagement over condemnation in fidelity to the footsteps of his Church's Divine Founder. With the Pope's courage and wisdom, there is hope that erring cardinals and bishops who have veered away will ultimately see the way, the truth and the light.