Disrobing the Church
Just off the press is “Altar of secrets: Sex, politics, and money in the Philippine Catholic Church,” written by Aries Rufo. The book was published by Journalism for Nation Building Foundation and launched last June 7 at Fully Booked. Copies will be available in Baguio at Mt. Cloud Bookshop.
The Church is one of the most impenetrable and least transparent institutions in the Philippines. The author noted the Church has observed the Code of Omerta, a code of silence Mafia-like that demands dark secrets be kept in order to preserve honor and bring no shame. Sex and indiscretions are swept under the rug and there is a conspiracy of silence about internal investigations.
The book focuses on the Catholic Church diocesan hierarchy. It shows the Church “cloaked in secrecy” that keeps the wrongdoing of bishops and priests within its confines, the erring unpunished. Its 14 chapters detail cases involving sexual misconduct and abuse, financial mismanagement, involvement in politics, and its macho culture. It also shows areas for reform and how the Church and State can work together.
We were buena mano, the first to have a copy signed by the author, whose dedication said: “Let’s keep engaging the Church.” When we finally picked up the book, we couldn’t put it down until the end. It was easy to read and entertaining, and some revelations were surprising.
The book begins with a chapter entitled “Closet Fathers.” Apparently, there is a guideline, a one-child quota system, where the bishop or priest father is allowed to remain in the ministry. More than one child he has to leave. Some 50 priests with “double lives” are found throughout the country, and Pampanga was noted to have the highest number of priests having illicit relations. More concern was shown in protecting erring members than the welfare of the victims in the cases of sexual abuse discussed.
Questioning the Church on money matters had always been off limits. But several cases discussed in the book show it is necessary to put the Church under public scrutiny. Funds have been mismanaged, such as in the case of Monte de Piedad Bank. Funds raised by the Church ostensibly for calamities – Haiti earthquake, typhoons Ondoy and Sendong, Muntinlupa fire victims – did not go where it was intended and was diverted. Yet money is spent for a bishop’s yearly trip to watch the tennis finals in Wimbledon and another’s enrolment in a five star hotel’s gym.
The book also traces the evolution of the Church’s involvement in politics and engagement with past administrations. When the bishops were too cozy with the president, they were compromised. The case of the “Pajero bishops” and the distribution of cash gift envelopes from former president Gloria Arroyo may have been the origin of the term “Malacanang diocese.”
The book also discussed the lengths of how the Church has tried to control the ovaries of women. They have tried to ram down their anti-RH bills stance down the throats of the legislators, bordering on blackmail. The decades of obstruction to the government’s family planning programs shows the Church’s intent to head towards a Church-run State.
It is still possible to have a healthy engagement between the Church and the State. But it can only happen if the Church-State boundaries are respected. There has to be just relations.
The Catholic Church hierarchy will have to be more transparent. It should cleanse its ranks and do away with hypocrisy. It should account for public funds, in the same way as the legislative and executive bodies and more recently the Supreme Court. If the Church wants to take the moral high ground and preach on morality and politics, its leaders should remain moral, adhere to and uphold a universally recognized standard of justice or goodness.