14 February 2008

SOS: Calling Cardinal Sin

Bishop Claver, S.J., wants us to focus our attention to what he considers the main thesis of the latest CBCP Pastoral Statement: most, if not all, of our country's social problems today have one common cause, i.e., "the subordination of the good of the many to that of the few. Which subordination, the bishops said, is our besetting sin as a people."

The good bishop also dispenses one good dose of reality check to those looking for another Cardinal Sin among the ranks of the CBCP, and lamenting the situation wherein there seems to be none to fill-in his shoes. Cardinal Sin is not the key element for another people power revolution to happen, it is the people. And the people today have things to worry and get busy about other than toppling the present dispensation.

Apparently, much as some sectors are raring for yet another EDSA or EDSA-like event, majority of the bishops today thinks the time has not yet come for it. And they don't want to provide the shortcut to jump-start such a movement.

Instead, they propose to lay the groundwork for such a movement. "Circles of discernment", reflecting and praying groups, that is what they want to call this not-so-original suggestion. It will be like the sit-ins of the Marcos era.

Once again, the bishops have spoken as from a fount of wisdom and propriety. An inspired, not necessarily stirring, sermon.

Then again, the question has to be asked: it has been several weeks now since the bishop's letter. So much has happened in this brief span of time, e.g., de Venecia's fall from grace and Lozano's (and opposition senators') moment of glory. Has any substantial number of bishops and priests been practicing already what they so wisely preach? How many bishops and priests have already initiated the formation of these "circles of discernment" in their dioceses, parishes and communities?

And no, the quick retort that existing religious organizations and communities may already be considered the embodiment of such circles of discernment, just won't do.

We have to practice what we preach. Otherwise, the pastoral directions the latest CBCP letter propose simply becomes a convenient excuse not to get involved. Apathy, couched in words holy and wise, is apathy still.

SOS: Calling Cardinal Sin

By Bishop Francisco F. Claver, S.J.

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:21:00 02/13/2008

Cardinal Sin, where art thou?

Exasperation, now and again, is expressed at the Catholic bishops by interest groups who want them to come out strongly against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They have been deeply disappointed that there is no Jaime Cardinal Sin among the bishops today to lead a “people power” movement to boot her out.

The exasperation, I’m afraid, is badly misplaced. We actually have had no lack of would-be Cardinal Sins in the past few years since the “Hello, Garci” tapes started the political pot boiling over crazily. There have been at least four or five such bishops; one in fact explicitly called for the people to join a rebellion in one of those strange hotel capers, others supported impeachment moves in Congress, and still others contributed their names to statements and manifestos calling for the President to step down. But nothing has happened. And amazingly, nobody is asking why.

Most simply, the reason is that the people did not respond. Period. Hardly anyone took to the streets in answer to their calls. And I don’t think the reason was that those bishops were not cardinals of Manila.

A closer look at our experience of people power in the past -- and the fast-approaching 22nd anniversary of EDSA People Power I is an opportune time to do so -- brings out this little fact: On the surface it looks like it was Cardinal Sin who was responsible for EDSA I. Likewise for EDSA II. I would say he helped -- and helped tremendously. But he wasn’t the real decision-maker for their occurrence. The people were -- a fact which supports what I pointed out in an earlier column: that the real king-makers (or -un-makers) are not the bishops but the people.

Thus, in the first EDSA, the snap elections that preceded it made clear what the people wanted. The bishops supported their will and Cardinal Sin followed the lead of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. At EDSA II, it was the texting students gathered at the EDSA Shrine who asked for his support, and he gave it. In both instances, it was clear where the people stood. In 1986 they voted for change in a real electoral exercise. And in 2001, they voted with their feet. Only after they clearly expressed their will did the cardinal come in. If people power succeeded both times, it was because the people wanted it to.

All this is to point out that the exasperation of those who are worked up uselessly about the bishops’ failure to assume the kind of leadership being urged on them for another people-power overthrow of a sitting President should be directed at the non-responding people. And they should be asking seriously: Where are they? And why don’t they come out to answer their calls?

Indeed, where are they? They are out there, watching, waiting, going about the hard business of daily living. And thinking. Their concerns are not those of would-be revolutionaries. The bishops equivalently said as much in their reading of the national situation in their last pastoral statement.

Commentators on that statement zeroed in critically on what they saw to be the bishops’ faulty reading of the differences between Manila’s perceptions and the provinces’ regarding the current political problems of the nation. Not much was said about the statement’s more substantive conclusion that those problems, though diversely perceived, had one common cause: the subordination of the good of the many to that of the few. Which subordination, the bishops said, is our besetting sin as a people.

And they asked that this Lenten season we do something serious about it. They asked for a very simple thing: that at every level of the Catholic Church we form “circles of discernment,” reflecting and praying groups of the faithful coming together to see how we can by ourselves attain a form of self-conversion, not just of ourselves as individuals but as whole communities.

It hasn’t occurred to anyone of our commentators yet, it seems, but those discerning groups, if they take place in sufficient numbers all over the country, may well in effect be a massive teach-in regarding our unyielding culture of corruption and a veritable referendum on our present crop of politicians and the most recent scandals. What happens after they have conscientized themselves?

It strikes me that one of the worst things about our national practice of corruption is that hardly anybody ever admits culpability and says “mea culpa” as Rodolfo Noel Lozada Jr. did in his Senate testimony last week. Yet admission of wrong-doing and being sorry for it is the first step to the self-reform that the bishops are asking of all of us. There is a great need for more Lozadas. That is why the bishops requested that the kind of discerning they are pushing for should be done also by MalacaƱang, Congress, and provincial, municipal and “barangay” [village] governments.

A quixotic quest? It most probably is, but it shows how desperate things are and how there is all the more need for all of us to work our own hope out, as the bishops insistently ask, together, everyone doing his/her own little share.

That’s what people power is all about.

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