Archbishop Capalla on the pastoral statement
AT 3:00 A.M. - Fr. James Reuter, SJ () - August 13, 2005 - 12:00am
Some quarters claim that the document, although it contains nothing new, and to some it was even a disappointment, was historic. Do you agree with this?

Actually, the main content of the statement is nothing new. It has been the ordinary teaching of the Church for many years. What made this Episcopal document historic was the occasion that motivated it. As bishops we were confronted by the political crisis, and by the social turmoil it was generating. The entire nation was waiting for the bishops to speak out.


Q.
There were 85 bishops present. How did you manage, under so much clamor from the public, to pull it together?

A.
It is not possible to retrace step by step how I presided over the assembly of 85 bishops and led them through serious discussions towards a consensus. It was a long process that started at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, before the Plenary Assembly opened. The Permanent Council and the chairmen of the different commissions met then to review important matters taken in the previous general assembly, and to finalize the agenda for the present plenary. When 12 council members and 30 chairmen had gathered, I suggested that – since the times were abnormal – we dispense with the minutes of the previous meeting as well as with the plenary agenda, and start discussing the present situation instead. They all agreed.

Q.
You mean the bishops were really aware that issuing a statement then was of paramount concern, even though they had been on closed retreat for days?

A.
Of course. All of us were aware of what was happening outside. We knew, too, that time was of the essence, and that we had to make a statement before anarchy could erupt in the streets. Even days before the assembly I had been hounded by media, demanding both my personal opinion and a CBCP statement on the political situation. We were so concerned that we agreed to omit many items on the agenda, and to advance the session on the political situation from Saturday to Thursday. So I assigned Archbishop Quevedo and Archbishop Legazpi to compose the drafting committee, with the help of Bishop Tagle and Bishop Odchimar. Before the formal opening of the Plenary Assembly, the first draft of the Statement was ready. The Statement had to go through four drafts. I am of the firm conviction that God’s gentle spirit was at work in the minds and hearts of my brother bishops during those days.

Q.
How did the bishops prepare for that session?

A.
The retreat prepared and strengthened us. Then we listened to experts. Three Jesuit priests spoke to us: Fr. Jose Magadia on the state of the economy, Fr. Joaquin Bernas on the legal aspects of the burning issues, and Fr. Daniel Huang on the moral choices. We did not invite any other resource persons.

Q.
Some reports said that the statement was watered down due to the "tongue lashing" that the bishops got from the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Franco.

A.
False! This is not true. The Papal Nuncio’s address, which was the first item in the opening ceremony, was simply a confirmation on the roles of the bishops and laity in political affairs. The reference to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI was not even in the Nuncio’s address. It was in the short version of the statement of Archbishop Legazpi. I saw the need of putting it in the final draft, so I privately requested Cardinal Vidal to make a motion to that effect – which was accepted.

Q.
How did 85 bishops finally agree on one statement?

A.
Well, that statement underwent close scrutiny, to say the least. It is also of great importance to note for historical reasons, that the draft which went into a third version was finely dissected line by line and paragraph by paragraph, by the assembly of 85 bishops. We had to be careful in our choice of words, for obvious reasons. For instance, the choice between the verbal expressions "cannot demand her resignation" and "do not demand her resignation" took some time to agree on. So with "options demanded by the Gospel" and "options that are not against the Gospel". In general, the process was smooth and orderly.

Q.
Prior to the plenary assembly, some bishops had been openly anti-GMA. Did this not adversely affect the process? How did you handle those bishops, considering that you yourself have been viewed by media as being pro-GMA?

A.
Don’t believe everything you read in the papers. I did not find the need to "handle" them because in the assembly hall where all of us gather, we come as bishops - pastors, not mere voters. And when we speak of truth, we mean Gospel truth; that’s the bottom line.

Q.
Do you mean to say that those bishops did not even care to air their side? And you, too, did not find the need to defend your own stand?

A.
We listen to everybody. In fact, a bishop counted 120 interventions, all in all. "Those bishops" naturally spoke up, and so did the others practically unknown to media, but who had very relative inputs which, I surmise, contributed vitally to the completion of the picture. I attribute the success of our assembly to our three day closed retreat. It did us a lot of good, giving us time to reflect. All of us emerged from that more enlightened than when we came, more open minded, more receptive to the proddings of the Holy Spirit. All of us approved that Statement. We were one.

Q.
What would you say was the most difficult moment during the drafting of the Statement?

A.
The most crucial moment was when we discussed Paragraphs 7 and 8. First, we had to agree that there were conflicting opinions regarding the President, and that our role was not to point out one or the other as the Gospel choice. Second, we agreed that no single concrete option regarding President Arroyo could claim to be the only one demanded by the Gospel. Third, we concluded by saying: "Therefore, in a spirit of humility and truth, we declare our prayerfully discerned collective decisions that we do not demand her resignation yet neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others. For we recognize that non- violent appeals for her resignation, the demand for a Truth Commission, and the filing of an impeachment case are not against the Gospel."

Q.
In the Statement, the bishops seem to delegate to the laity the responsibility of choosing from these options "that are not against the Gospel." Is this impression correct?

A.
Very much so. This is the second most important point in the Statement: that political issues are the responsibility of the lay people, not of the bishops. And then, to help our people, we offered moral guidelines on specific subjects like accountability, constitutionality, non-violence and effective governance.

Q.
The whole process took all of two days?

A.
Two and a half, which was swift. We finished everything by 12:30 that Sunday noon of July 10. After lunch we returned to the Assembly hall to hear the reading of Archbishop Quevedo of the final, polished draft.

Q.
There were no more objections to that final draft?

A.
No more. In fact, it was met with thunderous applause - unanimous approval, no objection, no abstentions. For the press conference, I told the bishops that the presence of the 85 members would reinforce the message of our Statement, since it could clearly show the unity and solidarity in the bishops’ conference. The suggestion was loudly approved. The rest is history.
* * *
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APOSTOLIC NUNCIO ARCHBISHOP ANTONIO FRANCO ARCHBISHOP LEGAZPI ARCHBISHOP QUEVEDO ARCHBISHOP QUEVEDO AND ARCHBISHOP LEGAZPI ASSEMBLY BISHOP TAGLE AND BISHOP ODCHIMAR BISHOPS PLENARY ASSEMBLY STATEMENT
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