Is the Church declaring war against the president?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

When the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines elected last Thursday, July 8, Caloocan Archbishop Virgilio “Ambo” David, a harsh and staunch critic against President Duterte, was this a resounding declaration of open collision with the president? Archbishop Ambo David is a bolder, more aggressive and daring critic against the president's bloody war against drugs. He is definitely more adversarial than the benign, low-key and rather laid-back outgoing CBCP president, Romulo Valles, who is the archbishop of Davao,

David is more confrontational than Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the predecessor of Valles. Are we expecting more fireworks? Will there be an open warfare between Padre Damaso and Kapitan Tiago? When the incumbent CBCP president, Archbishop Valles, was elected president, the people understood it as a friendly manifestation, and a sign that church and state are separate but friendly to each other. Valle's presidency was a sign that the Catholic Church wanted to have a modus vivendi with the government of President Rodrigo Duterte, a friend of Archbishop Valles. But now, are the bishops sending a smoke signal of open confrontation. If so, this will also be a war between the government radio and TV network versus Radio Veritas. Exciting.

As of today, there is a triumvirate of Catholic critics against Malacañang, composed of Archbishop Ambo David, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo and Archbishop Socrates Villegas. They are Athos, Porthos, and Aramis of the Catholic Church to wage a war of words against the Duterte government on such contention issues as alleged extra-judicial killings, so-called summary executions, and the unabated corruption and crimes. David is a Kapampangan, a brother of a brilliant writer, Randy David. He was ordained priest in 1983. He was made a bishop in 2006. From a relative anonymity, he was pushed to the limelight when Pope Francis transferred him from his post as assistant bishop of San Fernando to bishop of Caloocan in 2006. The diocese of Caloocan covers the parishes of Malabon and Navotas.

With Bishop Romulo Valles, there was a relative peace between the church and the state. President Duterte had stopped openly attacking the church about its so-called hypocrisy in pontificating on morality and rectitude when there are many allegations of sexual molestations among altar boys and seminarians by alleged pedophile priests. Many times, the president shared openly how he was allegedly molested by an ageing foreign priest when he was still a boy, and how he carried that stigma all those years. He showed a foreign correspondent a book written by a Filipino about supposed corruption inside the Church, about scandals and controversies about sexual and immoral entanglements among men of the church. With Valles as head of CBCP, there was an implicit truce, as the church was quite mellow, except for the voices of David, Pabillo, and Villegas.

Cardinal Jose Advincula, the new archbishop of Manila is quite low profile and not as vocal as the triumvirate. He is a silent performer who works hard without involving himself in very sensitive issues that borders on political and social matters. Archbishop Jose Palma is also avoiding very sensitive and controversial issues. These are matters of style and matters of advocacy. Archbishop Ambo David is expected to continue, and even with a more aggressive stance now that he has a bigger audience, and a higher platform. The bishops who elected him might have discerned that the Philippine Catholic Church needs a leader who is not afraid to face the government and even come to confrontation when it is a matter of vital religious dogma and social issues that involve human dignity, ethics, and morality.

Of course, the Church is not free from its own shares of skeletons in the closets. But who does not, after all. We are all sinners and unworthy in the eyes of God. We call out each other's weaknesses, not to condemn the person but only the act. We hate the sin but we respect the sinners. They are also sons and daughters of the same God. The Lord did not come to the world for those who are well. He came here to heal the sick, comfort the broken-hearted, and forgive the sinners and save them. I hope Archbishop Ambo and President Digong meet each other and accept that both of them are imperfect, striving for a little more proximity towards perfection.

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