THE rift between President Benigno Aquino 3rd and some members of the Catholic Church became even more evident during Pope Francis’ visit to Malacañang on Friday when the Philippine leader lashed out at prelates who have been critical of his administration.
In his speech during a general audience with Vatican and senior government officials, the President noted the “silence” of the Church when the administration of then President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was committing “abuses.”
“Hence, there was a true test of faith when many members of the Church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day,” Aquino said.
“In these attempts at correcting the wrongs of the past, one would think that the Church would be our natural ally. In contrast to their previous silence, some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin,” he added.
The President’s first brush with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was at the height of debates on the controversial Reproductive Health measure in Congress.
Some CBCP officials grew even more critical when they openly called for the resignation of the President last year, stressing that he had lost the moral ascendancy to lead the country.
A multisectoral National Transformation Council (NTC) has launched nationwide caravans to muster popular support against the Aquino government.
The group has called for the establishment of an alternative or transitional government in lieu of the one at present.
But Malacanang ignored such call and belittled the efforts of the NTC.
Lipa City (Batangas) Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who hosted the Lipa assembly in August, said Aquino must quit immediately.
Last October 1 in Cebu, the call became much sharper and Arguelles’ message, much stronger.
In his speech on Friday, the President said he finds it hard to understand the transformation of the Church from being the champion of the rights of all.
“Perhaps we had grown so accustomed to having this Church, always at the forefront of championing the rights of all, especially those of the marginalized, that we found it hard to understand its transformation. We were taught that the Catholic Church is the true church, and that there is constancy, for it upholds the truth at all times,” he added.
“Is it any wonder then that they see the glass not as half-full, or half-empty, but almost totally empty? Judgment is rendered without an appreciation of the facts,” the President said.
Nevertheless, Aquino underscored the importance of “settling differences” for the benefit of the people.
“I understand I am only human, and thus, I am imperfect. I ran for the presidency despite my discomfort with the trappings of power, because if I passed up on this opportunity to effect real change, I would not have been able to live with myself, especially if the situation worsened,” he pointed out.
“But in this effort, the participation of all is necessary. Everything I have said has not been to criticize, but to speak the truth, for the truth shall set us all free. If we are able to settle our differences, can we not benefit our people quicker?” the President asked.