The concelebrated Mass officiated by Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle last 10 December at the Manila Cathedral, supposedly to mark the 60th anniversary of the reconstruction of the cathedral from the ruins of World War II, turned out to be a political rather than a religious activity. That’s because the Roman Catholic clergy in the Philippines is extremely politicized.
Instead of focusing on the carnage of the Battle for the Liberation of Manila in 1945 and the reconstruction of the cathedral in 1958, Tagle and his brood of politicized bishops, including the highly opinionated Bishops Pablo David and Socrates Villegas, equated the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to wrongdoing.
Last month, President Duterte insinuated that David was in the habit of stealing funds from the Church. Although a denial would have sufficed, David went on to deflect attention from himself by saying the President must be sick.
David’s remark was obviously uncalled for because he is a member of the clergy. The Bible teaches that when a Christian is slapped on one cheek, he must offer the other cheek. That means priests should not make offensive remarks against their critics. Like many priests and bishops, David does not practice what he preaches.
As usual, Tagle spoke conscious of the way he sounds, instead of his grammar and the substance of his remarks. When Pope Francis was at the Quirino Grandstand at the Luneta during his 2015 papal visit, Tagle delivered a speech where he mentioned the phrase, “non-Christian Catholics,” as if there are Catholics who are not Christians. What kind of cardinal speaks like that.
Father Reginald Malicdem, rector of the Manila Cathedral, converted the Mass into a political circus by asking the churchgoers to applaud prelates and bishops for their fight against the government. As expected, the churchgoers applauded.
Malicdem and his lot must have forgotten that a church is a house of worship and not a political forum for the exaltation of the clergy. He obviously forgot the Biblical passage, “He who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Tagle and Malicdem have conveniently forgotten that the Manila Cathedral itself was the site of injustice back in September 2010 when Intramuros tourist guide Carlos Celdran went inside the cathedral during a meeting of religious leaders. Celdran brandished a placard bearing the word “Damaso” and openly criticized the bishops for their unwarranted meddling in politics.
“Damaso” refers to the villainous Spanish friar in Jose Rizal’s famous novel Noli Me Tangere.
For expressing the truth in accordance with his constitutional right of free speech, Celdran found himself at the receiving end of the bishops’ wrath. Monsignor Nestor Cerbo filed criminal charges against Celdran for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code which penalizes “anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, shall not perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
Celdran was ultimately convicted by the courts and his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Several weeks prior to the papal visit in 2015, Tagle made a not so straightforward announcement on television that the Church had already forgiven Celdran. Tagle added, however, that it was not the Church which filed the criminal case against Celdran but the People of the Philippines who did. This cardinal engaged in double-talk which makes him unfit to be a spiritual leader, much less a pope.
Since the Church does not pay taxes and contributes nothing to the State coffers, it has no business criticizing government. By criticizing the State without paying taxes, the Church obviously wants to enjoy the best of both worlds.
The Manila Cathedral gathering, therefore, is a reminder that the contemporary Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines is no different from the one during the 19th century, except that today, the Spaniards have been replaced by the locals.