THE head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has urged his fellow bishops to adapt to rapid changes in society and explore new pastoral strategies especially for the youth, or risk losing their relevance.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the CBCP president, lamented that the Church hierarchy’s influence has waned as shown by the bitter debate over the Reproductive Health Law in 2012 and efforts to catechize voters during last year’s elections.
“Two generations ago, the authority of the head of the family or the parish or diocese was never questioned. Today, leaders are asked by what authority do they demand obedience and oblige compliance? It happens in our diocesan chanceries. It happens in the CBCP. It happens to all who hold authority,” Villegas said in his opening remarks during the 114th Plenary Assembly of the CBCP on Saturday at the Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.
He attributed this to “rationalization” and “pluralism,” which had led to the “the de-privileging of privileged philosophical or theological or scientific constructs.” Rationalization, he said, avoids true explanations and makes fallacious explanations attractive, while pluralism denotes a diversity of views and stands, rather than a single approach or method of interpretation.
“There are rapid changes happening in Philippine society and it is imperative for us churchmen to acknowledge them so that our pastoral praxis can better answer the needs of the Filipino nation,” he said.
“We can victims of change, but we can be its authors as well as its guardians. Pope Francis is providing us, pastors, with a sterling example of what it is to respond and at the same time to lead, to change boldly, but to hold to what is true faithfully as well.”
No to fundamentalism
Villegas however warned his fellow bishops against retreating to “fundamentalism” and intolerance.
“When pluralism is perceived as a threat, fundamentalism becomes a very attractive proposition— because every fundamentalist looks for immovable anchorage, and in religions, this will take the form of the fundamental text. But fundamentalism is no harmless hermeneutic position, because it is also intolerant,” he said.
At the same time, the Church, while a symbol of stability and permanence and “standing on solid rock” with Christ as cornerstone, should not be left as a “shell institution.”
“We issue pastoral letters but are we still understood and relevant to the struggles and visions of our people? Can we listen to gutter language without judgment? Are we not becoming shell institutions—lovely to see with nothing inside?” Villegas said.
He pointed out that “experiments” in the Philippine Church that have de-emphasized theological study and academic pursuits “have not altogether been fruitful and promising.”
The CBCP chief called on priests and seminarians, as well as and religious and lay leaders, to “give themselves to the serious study of theology that enables them to answer the vexing problems in human hearts,” as well as “the agnosticism of many of the young, and the indifference of those who think that the days of religion have given way to the age of science.”
The prelate challenged CBCP members to adapt to the “decoupling” of fixed spaces and times. “There are no longer fixed spaces and time for different activities,” he said. “Our generation of young Catholics seek Pokemon in our parish churches and accidentally find God while window shopping!”
Unconventional Mass schedules at noon or late at night have been attracting young Catholics, he noted.
“Maybe we should consider nocturnal ministry for call center agents? Are we ready to ride on Facebook as our pulpit to proclaim Christ to our young generation? And while many of us members of the clergy shirk away from what we take to be the ‘commercialization’ of the liturgy by celebrating the Eucharist in malls and in other public spaces, in the very least, we should ask ourselves whether or not we should be more accommodating in respect to our concepts of ‘sacred space,’” he said.
The CBCP plenary assembly, which began on Saturday and ends today, is the first of two annual sessions where bishops tackled important Church issues. The next session will be in July.
The plenary assembly is the highest decision-making body of the conference. When the assembly is not in session, the CBCP Permanent Council led by Villegas acts for and in behalf of the conference.
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL