Hex cathedra

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In a Mass celebrated for Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a Catholic priest said something unthinkable.

He told the Mass goers that he prayed for President Rodrigo Duterte to get sick when the Catholic Church called for prayers following some scathing remarks attributed to the President about God.

“I prayed then for Duterte to get sick. He said he’s tired. So, (if he gets sick) he can rest,” Fr. Noel Gatchalian said in his homily during a Mass at the Senate on 6 September.

The Mass was held for Trillanes who holed up at the Senate after Duterte issued Proclamation 572 revoking the grant of amnesty to Trillanes for his participation in at least two coup attempts and ordered his arrest.

“That’s just one of my prayers. I have many more, those that reflect the people’s cries because even if we are silent, we are just waiting for the right opportunity,” he added.

Fr. Gatchalian’s incendiary statement was reported as a joke.

However, the video of the controversial homily betrays otherwise, based on the priest’s demeanor and the tone of his voice. Beside, none of the reports quoted Fr. Gatchalian categorically saying it was indeed a mere joke.

As expected, such statements drew an even sharper retort from President Duterte. But that is expected and understandable given his penchant for colorful words and the traumatic experience he said he had from the Church during his youth.

It’s crystal clear to many that the priest’s statement is not only uncalled for, it is patently wrong. It goes against the core teachings of the Catholic Church which revolve around charity.

In fact, the Bible reminds the Catholic faithful that God’s two greatest commandments are to love God and to “love thy neighbor as yourself.”

An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Fr. Jerome Secillano, explained the Church’s position in no uncertain terms.

“The Church’s mission is to pray for the sick to get well. The Church should not pray for a person to get sick. That is not the mission of the Church,” Fr. Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP Permanent Committee on Media Affairs, said at a forum.

What Fr. Gatchalian did was not a prayer. It was a dark sentiment far removed from anything divine. It was practically a curse.

Likewise, it constitutes abuse of his moral authority as a priest in much the same way Trillanes did when as a soldier he rose up in arms and tried — albeit ending in disastrous failures — to topple the duly constituted government.

Trillanes is still up to no good, according to President Duterte who accused the senator of conniving with the yellow political group, Liberal Party and the Reds in a bid to oust him from power.

But Fr. Gatchalian’s evil intentions apparently had no effect as President Duterte seems to be in his elements and ably performing his duties as Chief Executive.

In contrast, Trillanes sank deeper into trouble as the Supreme Court denied his urgent plea for a temporary restraining order against Proclamation 572, raising the possibility of his arrest soon.

If Fr. Gatchalian simply wanted to express a personal sentiment, he is certainly free to do so.

However, he should not make such utterances in a Mass, when he is cloaked with his vestments symbolizing the Church’s authority because it would assume a new dimension.

That brings to mind the Latin phrase “ex cathedra,” which means not “from the cathedral” but “from the chair.” Merriam-Webster dictionary said that according to Roman Catholic doctrine, a Pope speaking ex cathedra on issues of faith or morals is infallible.

In general use, the phrase was associated to statements made by people in positions of authority.

But Fr. Gatchalian’s ill-intentioned prayers could not be taken as an ex cathedra pronouncement. Instead, it can be appropriately called hex cathedra.

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