A farce.” “F**king shit.” These are among the choice words President Rodrigo Duterte has aimed at the Catholic Church and its teachings – foul vitriol spat at those he perceives to be standing in his way.
It is very likely that these verbal tirades have emboldened criminal elements to murder priests – three in the last six months. A fourth survived, while two were shot dead near the church altar and in full view of churchgoers. Duterte even heaped accusations against one slain priest as his blood was still fresh on the hard surface on which he fell.
He is also behind the move to deport a 71-year-old Australian nun, Sister Patricia Fox, whose advocacy for the destitute appears to have infuriated the authoritarian president
What the prime basher of the Catholic Church overlooks are church ministries that serve the marginalised poor and forgotten in remote places where only the brave of heart can reach. These missionaries more often than not disregard efforts to proselytise and convert in favour of bringing urgently needed material and spiritual comfort to those whom society overlooks or despises.
And in the towns and cities are church-run schools that cater to students from different economic classes, academic institutions that fill the gap that the government cannot fill. Add to these hospitals, community-based health programs, counselling centres, feeding centres, housing, name it.
This is not to say that all these good works should wipe away the multitude of sins in the church ranks and leadership. But the good cannot simply be ignored and the mistakes held up without letup in order to foment disrespect and ridicule.
An example of church efforts to help those who call God by another name, but who are brethren nonetheless, is Duyog Marawi. It is “a church-based and interfaith dialogical response to the Marawi crisis in partnership with the Redemptorist Missionaries”, a response to the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the southern city. It is spearheaded by the Prelature of St Mary in Marawi under Bishop Edwin de la Pena.
“Duyog” is a Cebuano word that means to accompany. Duyog Marawi’s initiators believe that the mission of rebuilding belongs to the people of Marawi, and Duyog Marawi is the Catholic Church accompanying Filipino brethren – Muslims and Christians of Marawi – all the way.
There are countless more “duyog”, institutional and personal. Another example is Australian Sister Pat, who is threatened with deportation for aligning herself with the marginalised poor and forgotten. She got a reprieve on Monday when Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra ruled that the Bureau of Immigration cannot revoke the nun’s missionary visa without basis.
Sister Pat’s words to her fellow sojourners: “Where there are victims of abuse and poverty, where there are people who are fighting for justice and freedom – the Church should be there.”
While in South Korea, President Duterte enticed Filipinos in the audience to join him on stage by waving a copy of the book on abuses in the Catholic Church, “Altar of Secrets”, by Aries Rufo. That the president brought with him his antipathy toward the Catholic Church and bared it in a foreign land was odd behaviour. Odder still was his lips-to-lips kissing on stage with a hesitant but eventually obliging Filipino woman who was given the book.
The biblical tenet of turning the other cheek is not exactly what Catholics expect from their leaders in these times. In fact, very strong statements have been issued against the priests’ murders, so strong they should reverberate in timid souls while arousing fear of eternal damnation among the hired guns and the cowards who cannot do the killing themselves.
But while churches – all churches – have their share of misbehaving pastors and members of the hierarchy who must be denounced and sent to prison if need be, using trashy language for an institution that many hold in high respect is not becoming of a leader of a nation. And though the Catholic Church is an institution in the corporate and sociological sense, it is, for believers, the people of God, the body of Christ.
I read an anecdote about a group of errant Catholic priests huddled together and talking among themselves. One remarked: “For two thousand years people like us have been trying to destroy this Church, but it is still here.”