Catholic Church on the offensive
(The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2013 - 12:00am

Despite the passage of Republic Act 10354, better known as the Reproductive Health bill, groups closely associated with the Catholic Church are working on a strategy to keep it from being implemented, vowing they won’t stop until they succeed. True enough, lawyer James Imbong and his wife have filed a suit challenging the RH bill’s constitutionality, asking the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent it from taking effect (15 days after the law’s publication in major newspapers). While the Catholic Church leadership has denied having any direct hand in the couple’s petition, there is every indication to the contrary since Atty. Imbong happens to be the son of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) legal counsel and defeated 2010 senatorial candidate Jo Imbong.

For many years, most especially during the Spanish colonial days, the Catholic Church and the friars wielded so much power, to the point that even State policy and land grants could be affected depending on the support — or resistance — of the Church leadership. In more recent history, the influence of the Catholic clergy reached its height during the EDSA I People Power Revolution, their political clout growing even stronger during the presidency of Cory Aquino. The irony today is that it’s Cory’s very own son — Noynoy — who has dared to go head-to-head against an institution whose power and authority have been unquestioned. To describe the relationship between the current president and the Catholic Church as delicate would not be an exaggeration, considering that CBCP leaders even hinted at excommunicating President Noynoy early in his term because he said couples who opt for artificial methods of contraception have a right to do so.

The passage of the RH bill after languishing for 14 years in Congress’ legislative cellars mainly due to opposition from the Church is leading many to question the Church’s vaunted influence, with perception that the “fear factor” for the so-called Catholic vote is losing its hold on many politicians. Nevertheless, a group closely identified with the Church issued a statement saying candidates who supported the RH bill would be severely castigated in the coming May elections — a threat previously issued by the CBCP — prompting several women’s groups supporting the bill to counter, reminding everyone that former DOH Secretary Johnny Flavier (a strong population control advocate) emerged as number two in the 1995 senatorial elections despite very strong opposition from the Church and the late Jaime Cardinal Sin.

The reality is, the influence of the Catholic Church and its “holier than thou” dictum seems to be on a steep decline in many parts of the world including the United States and Europe. In Poland, once described as “the most Catholic country in Europe,” the number of loyal Catholics is rapidly declining, with criticism of the clergy growing stronger, compounded by the increasing number of suicides committed by priests in the last six years, prompting many to lose confidence in a religion that is perceived to be incapable of ministering to its own priests.

In some countries like France, Denmark, Germany and Turkey for instance, churches are being auctioned off including furniture and confessionals due to the continuously dwindling number of churchgoers. Ironically, many of these churches have been turned into mosques. In financially troubled countries in Europe, the Church is in danger of losing many of its privileges, like in Italy where government has moved to strip the property tax exemptions accorded to the Catholic Church starting this January. Early last year, the administration of US President Barack Obama refused to grant a waiver to Catholic-owned and -run hospitals and schools that refuse to cover the cost of contraceptives to employees.

Just before he died in August 2012, outspoken Cardinal Carlo Martini (a Jesuit who was once considered “Pope material”) openly criticized the Catholic Church for its unwillingness to embrace reform, describing it as “200 years behind.” “Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty, and the church bureaucracy rises up...” the Cardinal said, adding that the “child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation” — a radical transformation beginning with the Pope and his bishops, Martini declared.

Indeed, the child sex scandals involving Catholic priests has resulted in a backlash against the Church, confirmed by a study conducted by two US college professors who point to the sex abuse scandals as the top reason why people are leaving the Catholic Church. While the study focused on just one church, its authors say the results are reflective of the general sentiment felt by churchgoers in many places across the United States and Canada. In fact, millions of dollars are currently being spent on an ad campaign aired on TV networks all over the US and Canada inviting former Catholics to “come home to church.” Those who left have mostly converted to Protestant Christian congregations, finding more spiritual solace in a religion that does not mix with politics.

While the Catholic Church may still have a strong following in the Philippines, Church leaders are taking the passage of the RH bill as a “wakeup call” that should stir them from complacency and lead to “clearer preaching” about contraception. “It’s about time to re-win the hearts and minds of the people,” the CBCP’s Fr. Melvin Castro emphasized. There are a number of Filipino Catholics who have joined “Born Again” and other similar congregations.

The final test for the Catholic Church’s influence will be in the coming May elections. But for many Filipinos, the recent developments have made one thing very clear: It’s time to establish a well-defined line separating the Church and the State.

*      *      *



  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with