The average, regular church going Catholic has a clear view of his faith. If the priest of his parish acts and preaches as a genuine shepherd to his flock, then all thoughts of backsliding (or the adoption of agnosticism) are held off. The average Catholic benchmarks the conduct of his parish priests on his expectations and ideals—then makes a decision on whether he should step up on his faith or slacken off.
If a parish priest is judged as out-of-step with the times and mired in orthodoxy, or is money-hungry, the average Catholic does either of two things: temporarily drop out of the faith or ignore the robed irrelevancy during mass.
The ascension of Pope Francis now resolves the personal anguish of the average Catholic who is prone to vacillation and doubt. With Francis as a liberating steward of the Catholic faith, one would want to stay Catholic forever—or until his papacy is over. With the new pope— trailblazing, full of humanity and all original—the average Catholic now wants to plunge into the deepest deep of his faith, regardless of the flaws and failings of the local parishes. Or the failings of the entire Catholic hierarchy in the country, even. I am one of the former agnostics/doubters now very deep in my Catholic faith.
Why am I invoking the Catholic leadership? Is not Cardinal Tagle very much like Pope Francis? In terms of adulation, yes. Catholics in the country love Cardinal Tagle. Catholics across the globe have been rooting for this amazing leader of the Church. But on the radical and profound reshaping of the Church, Pope Francis has been an inspiring trailblazer. Cardinal Tagle has yet to take Step 1 into that papal direction. Any and all efforts to canonize Cardinal Tagle, who was on everyone’s shortlist as Filipino of the Year, sorry to say, are still premature.
Ok, a comparison is inevitable. Here is it.
In the short period that he has reigned, Pope Francis has been doing things that are radical, game-changing, profound and rich with liberating symbolism. He has also shunned ostentatiousness, rejected much of the royal trappings of the papacy (including the red shoes of Benedict, in favor of black loafers) and even junked the pope mobile for a basic, entry-level sedan.
His Evangelii Gaudium, the recent apostolic exhortation, shredded the cozy ties of the conservative elements of the Church with the plutocracy by blasting reckless capitalism and putting trickle-down economics in its proper place – that of a failed economic dogma. Getting the ire of Rush Limbaugh, the radio-based darling of the American conservatives, and getting on the nerves of American billionaires who stand for reckless capitalism, is now one of the many things we love about the pope.
He purged all but one overseer of the Vatican Bank to reform the bank and cleanse it of scandal. He even rebuked ranking leaders of the Church over displays of pomp and pageantry.
He speaks of the need to carry out structural reforms “at all level” to signify his intent to shake up the Church. The arch conservatism of the John Paul/Benedict papacies— this was implied in his statements—would no longer have currency under his leadership.
Ecumenism, and the promotion of it, would be pursued vigorously after the backsliding to fundamentalism during the reign of Benedict. Catholics like myself believe that the definitive statements of Pope Francis on abortion and the ordination of women are a mere temporary concession to the arch-conservatives within the Church. Recently, to the joy of Jews across the globe, he reportedly green-lighted the opening of the Vatican archives during the Holocaust, especially the actions of the then pope, Pius X11, during that shameful period in our history.
At the right time and the proper place, this is our hope, he would break the long-held theological canons that have marginalized women in Church affairs.
Oh, his statement “Who am I to judge” and “preach the Gospel and use words only when necessary” indeed make me want to stay Catholic forever. Or, at least throughout the duration of his papacy.
What has Cardinal Tagle done?
He has strongly condemned the pork barrel scam and reportedly “teared up” after reading the accounts of the Saro-for-Cash exchange between many legislators and the Napoles-registered NGOs. But then, who in his right mind did not tear up over that brazen, unprecedented act of corruption. And over the unconscionable conduct of the legislator-cohorts of Napoles and the Napoles kids?
His strong stand against corruption was admirable. But did he ever lift a finger to purge the Church of the robed Napoles cohorts? The right and proper complementary move after the condemnation of the scam was the defrocking of all the priests linked to Napoles. Pope Francis would have done that promptly and without shedding a tear for the pampered priests. Right now, some of the Napoles-subsidized priests are still working to discredit the whistleblowers that blew open the lurid, sickening details of the scam.
Cardinal Tagle may be a good prince of the church. But so far, he has been reacting to headlines and popular issues, a headline-chaser to be blunt about it, not a ground-breaker the way Pope Francis has been breaking ground on doctrinal and economic issues.
No purge of wayward priests, no strong statements on inequality and other defining and dehumanizing economic issues of our times, no liberating statement of gays, women and other sectors that have been marginalized by the Church. The revelation that the world’s 85 richest people have wealth that is equivalent to what the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world possess makes it imperative for Cardinal Tagle to make a strong stand against inequality in the Philippine context and the global context. The richest 40 Filipino families vacuum up more than a two thirds of income gains in the country.
On doctrinal issues, we do not even know whether he agrees with Pope Francis or he is still stuck up in the Benedict/John Paul era.
Cardinal Tagle should indeed “walk the walk” and embark on something fresh and reinvigorating—and something radical—to show us, the Catholic Filipinos, that he is truly in the mold of Pope Francis.