The leader of the Philippines’ Catholic Church, which routinely denounces abortion and contraception, called for the clergy on Saturday to listen more and condemn less, in the latest sign of a liberal shift in the powerful institution.
Church leaders exert vast influence in the Philippines, Asia’s bastion of Catholicism and the only state apart from Vatican that still outlaws divorce and terminations.
But with many modern Filipino Catholics embracing attitudes that were once considered taboo or frowned upon, and the more conciliatory tone of the Vatican under Pope Francis, there are signs that the Philippine church is softening its stance.
Speaking at an annual assembly of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), where he is president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas said a change of tone would be a fitting welcome for the Pope, who is expected to visit the Philippines next year.
“Perhaps we can reconsider our approach to solving the problems of family and life by listening more to the wounded and the grieving broken homes rather than condemning divorce and abortion and contraception at every opportunity,” Villegas said.
“Perhaps we can reach out to more people by stretching our minds and lowering our fences and listening . . . without being judgmental or punitive.”
In 2012 President Benigno Aquino 3rd signed a law requiring government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, in a major defeat for the church, which fought a 15-year campaign against any form of family planning laws.
The law took effect this year after the Supreme Court ruled against a church-backed legal challenge.
The Catholic Church, which counts over 80 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million population as members, led street protests denouncing the law as “evil”, and at one point threatened Aquino with excommunication.
The Pope last year said the church had become “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and has set about creating “a poor church for the poor,” in a major shift from his predecessor.
Bishop Oscar Cruz, a former president of the CBCP, said earlier this year he expected divorce, abortion and even same-sex marriage could eventually be legalized in the Philippines.
Villegas also said the Church should also reconsider its “approach at solving the cancer of Philippine society which is graft and corruption by talking more about the beauty of integrity and honesty rather constantly denouncing the evil that we experience.”
“Perhaps we can widen circles of integrity rather than creating fiercer watchdogs against corruption. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that for every prophetic denunciation we utter we must stretch our hands to offer an opportunity for conversion and healing,” he added.
He said priests can be more convincing if they will “use the power of goodness and beauty rather than the brilliance of polemics and debates.”
“Perhaps instead of denouncing poverty and unjust social structures, we can talk more about the power of generosity and the promised abundance that God has promised to those who leave everything behind to follow Him. Perhaps we can fight poverty by embracing simplicity of life. If our stomachs know hunger by experience, the hungry and suffering poor will believe us,” he added.
He said the “frontal attacks on evil” will just produce another form of “evil in oneself,” which is inflated to self-image.
AFP and ROBERTZON F. RAMIREZ