Our bishops among hierarchs most reluctant to go along


Pope Francis is dragging the Roman Church into the mean streets of the “Third World,” to confront the global issues of ­poverty and inequity; and the Philippine bishops are among the national hierarchies most reluctant to go along.

Francis is the very first Pope from Latin America—arguably the most afflicted by these social problems. The continent is also where the Christian faith is the most vibrant—but in its populist varieties. And Latin America is the birthplace of “liberation theology’—which preaches that the Christian churches have a duty and a commitment to oppose social, economic and political repression.

As the Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, sharing by choice in the austere life of Argentina’s middle class. Barely a year as Pope, the 76-year-old pontiff has set a fire under the seat of his comfortable brethren.

Religious populism
Francis is seeking to renew the 2,000-year-old faith and reposition it strategically as the “Church of the Poor.”

He wants the institutional Church to regain its missionary drive, to be more open to everyday people—to become more involved in the lives of the global poor. And he wants the Church to evangelize on the very same streets where the poor scratch out their living.

The Church-of-the-Poor option Francis offers his brethren is a kind of religious populism appropriate to our time. Personalist religion gives folk set adrift from their ancestral villages a moral code in a world without a spiritual foundation.

Francis is trying to tilt Christianity’s center of gravity away from the bureaucratic, powerful and apparently corrupt Roman curia, and move it closer to the exuberant Pentecostals, Evangelicals and Charismatics who make up the most volatile followers of the faith in our time.

Already membership in Pentecostal and Evangelical churches exceeds 400 million worldwide. And already Charismatics make up 11% of all Catholics worldwide and 19% of Filipino Catholics.

Prosperity theology
Modernization has been just as unsettling for the poor in Christian as in Muslim societies. Most everywhere, the secular state’s failure to live up to its own ideological promises has made religious nationalism an attractive alternative to those seeking to move their peoples to action.

In the Arab world, failed modernization has generated frustration and a search for meaning that expresses itself most dramatically in religious terrorism. But in parts of West Africa, as in Metro Manila, folk celebrate wealth through a kind of “Prosperity Theology,” whose central message is that success comes through devotion and prayer. Four out of five Filipino charismatics live below the national poverty line.

Direct line to deity
In the institutional Church, God is a once-a-week presence in people’s lives. The relationship between the individual believer and the Deity is formal and indirect—mediated by a sanctified priesthood and a multitude of saints. And its central teaching is that man’s earthly sojourn is a time of trials and hardships. The oppressed and downtrodden must await their reward in the hereafter.

For Charismatics, Christianity is a religion of here-and-now—of earthly over heavenly concerns. Despite their ideological and doctrinal differences, Charismatics alike regard their relationship with God as an individual and direct connection.

The largest Philippine Catholic Charismatic mass movement, El Shaddai (“The God Almighty of Blessings”), formally defers to orthodox theology. But its “servant-leader” speaks of ordinary people’s being unable to worship spontaneously because of the “religious bondage” imposed by bureaucratic Church institutions.

Charismatic Catholicism is easy to criticize for the simplistic solutions it offers for complex existential problems. But it’s harder to shrug off its ability to empower marginal people seeking hope and a sense of purpose—to enable them to rise above their helplessness and fatalism, bolster their self-image, and help them adapt to the modern world.

A seat at the head table
The “Church of the Poor” option offers the Philippine hierarchy a future far different from the one it has come to expect. In the traditional community, the local churchman has always sat at the head table, no matter how meager the fare; and throughout the Spanish period the Church institution had been the most reliable pillar of colonial rule.

Historically, we Filipinos have practiced a comfortable kind of Catholicism—one that has adapted itself to things of this world: a self-indulgent faith of personal piety unencumbered by social responsibility.

Typically our bishops endeavor to stay above social controversies they do not regard as having grievous religious or spiritual implications. Currently an outspoken community organizer of the Metro Manila poor accuses them of being overly focused on their opposition to the Reproductive Health Law, even as they know the Church’s concerns are “much wider than those centered on sexual morality issues.”

Certainly successive populist uprisings and two agrarian rebellions in the 1900s do not seem to have shaken the CBCP’s complacency—though, as in Latin America, some of their young priests and nuns have died trying to make revolution.

Failed Evangelization?
Filipinos no longer pride themselves in being East Asia’s only Christian nation. Nominally, close to 80% of all of us still are Catholic; but in 2013 church attendance was down to 37% weekly, from 64% in 1991.

Among our young people, only 35% apparently still believe in one God. Much less do the poor believe their poverty to be God’s will. To the contrary, they believe God wants people to struggle to escape it. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo concedes that the growing tendency of Filipinos to favor divorce, live-in unions, and same-sex marriage indicates a “failed” evangelization.

Cry from the heart
Francis believes the Church—as the custodian of society’s values—should speak out with a stronger voice on social issues. As an earnest of his own sincerity, he made a startling apology for the Church’s collusion in the atrocities of the Iberian conquest (1493-1521) during his recent visit to South America: “Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

Certainly Francis ranges widely in his criticism of the world in our time. He calls the prevailing economic order “a new colonialism.” In his judgment, global capitalism has failed to create fairness, equity and decent livelihoods for the poor.

Echoing the tenets of liberation theology, Francis says, “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation.” He voices the hope that a market economy founded on Christianity can provide an ethical framework for the new global economy.

This early, the new Pope’s rhetoric is rattling the papal court. But the likelihood that Francis will succeed in reforming Rome significantly is unlikely. He is part of a militant and eloquent, but small and fleeting minority in the Church institution. His outbursts of emotion during his visit home are a cry from the heart, and is not yet a program for meaningful reform.


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  1. emmanuel mallari on

    It seems like this article is a dig to Filipino Catholicism. Perhaps the author belongs to other religious group.

    It could be true that the church attendance is down. But it does not mean that we, Filipinos are losing our faith. It just so happened that a dime a dozen religious groups abound and sprouting like mushroom in every nook and corner of our archipelago. At the end of the day, when one dies, whether or not he or she belongs to other religious group … he or she is wheeled into the catholic church for final rites.

  2. Teddy Sevilla on

    Can you please expound on your opening statement: “Philippine bishops are among the national hierarchies most reluctant to go along.” Why is this so? Isn’t the poor the priority of the bishops of our country? Are they meddling in politics too much?

  3. Vic Penetrante on

    The Roman influence has reached the INC and will be influencing charismatic movements if they materially grow.

  4. We should be careful with this pope. This Jesuit pope has violated his own Church’s canon law prohibiting any Jesuits, which is supposed to be the army of the church, to sit as the pope. He is also the first pope to embrace the new world order, which to some is diabolical. Lastly, he is also the only pope who advocates a world tax on all poor citizens of the world–called carbon tax–to enrich more the ultra rich of the world–globalists. The pope should be preaching peace and trying to espouse street militarism. WATCH THIS POPE CLOSELY WITH OPEN EYES.

  5. genesisbughaw on

    It’s the well entrenched or rather imbedded corrupt system in the working system of the Government wherein those people at the helm of public accountability are too smart of doing things in the web of legal sophistry.

    From the point of view of practicing our faith and from the leaf of holy bible and I quote;
    “Faith without action is dead.”
    In my humble view if you will, faith should be live well by practicing justice.
    Tackling our complex problems can be properly appreciated if you think in the context of justice of solving or rather making a strategic direction of what you want to achieve.

    In technical sense, we have to identify the root of all failed system and if we missed it we are committing injustice to our fellowmen.
    God Bless the Philippines!

  6. The teachings of the Philippine Church is more on rhetoric. The bishops are already in their comfort zone who are lavishing on earthly happiness. Show us bishops who roam around to evangelize together with their minions. Bishops who should be setting example to their subordinate priests. Quo vadis!

  7. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    25 July 2015

    Yes, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines appears not only reluctant to go along with reformist Pope Francis, but may actually oppose an agenda that focuses on the poor, on the widening Inequality Gap, and on the destruction of planet earth, which he rightly calls “our home.”

    The CBCP obviously is as “benighted” as a Roman Catholic hierarchy anywhere in the world could ever be.

    My sense is that it resented Pope Francis when he denounced Catholics for “obsessing on abortion, family planning and gay marriage,” implying that they had better things to do as so-called “Christians.”

    It did not help when on a plane-side interview last January on his way back to Rome from the Philippines where, with his own merciful and compassionate eyes he saw how truly “poor” poor Filipinos are, WARNED CATHOLICS NOT TO MULTIPLY LIKE RABBITS.

    It is sad to contemplate that the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines–with a flock estimated at around 80 percent of the country’s population–has gone astray and has miserably failed to do its job in its proper domain, which is MORALITY.

    As a matter of fact, the RCC is the third leg of what I analyze to be a CONSPIRACY of Plutocrats [the first leg] and Politicos [ the 2d] leg] whose overarching Agenda is to perpetuate itself in wealth and power the better to manipulate and exploit the Filipino people.

    Can Pope Francis break the vise-like grip by which this 3-legged Conspiracy has held the Philippines for all of the past sixty or so years?

    I do not think so.


  8. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is natural that what is tangible is what is perceived, the Body. Persception stops there, on the Body. Christ is not seen in the Body.

    If I approach a person and talk of his body alone, how his kidneys are filtering the waste in his body, how his heart is pumping blood throughout his body, how his brain directs the movements of each part of the body; that “person” will be totally insulted. Such is the way interact with Christ in the Church. Our understanding of the Church has been that way.

    Christ consistently point to the Father, so the Church must also consistently to Christ.
    Christ is the perfect representation image and likeness of the Father. He once told Philip, you have seen me so you have seen the Father.

    The Church continues being formed Into the image and likeness of Christ by the Holy Spirit, as he formed him in the womb of the Virgin Mary. That completion is yet to come, when the Church is taken up to heaven.

    Just as Moses is the leader of the Isrealites, so is the the Pope to the Church; but God is the ultimately mover of the Church. The condition of Church is similar to the condition of the people of Isreal in their deliverance from Egypt. Such also is the condition of the Church in her deliverance from sin. The interplay of the communal and personal responses to God’s invitation to holiness determines the pace of the journey
    to perfection of the Body of Christ. Though each person is save individually, each one’s salvation is worked out in community.

    At the time of Moses the action of God is witnessed corporately. That in inspite of the mighty deeds of God in their midst still the Isrealites reverted to their old pagan practices. So In this Church age the action of God is worked out personally in the hearts of everyone by the Holy Spirit.