sometimes, the catholic church falters badly and not quite carlos celdran: why i walked out of mass


The exterior of Manila Cathedral, one of the t...

The exterior of Manila Cathedral, one of the three basilicas located in the city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two articles in one. Why can’t the Roman Catholic Church get its act together?

Sometimes, the Catholic Church falters badly 

Ongpin, Ma. Isabel. “Sometimes, the Catholic Church falters badly.” Manila Times.  August 2012. 10 August 2012. <>. 

I am a Catholic and went to Catholic schools. I have lived with the Catholic hierarchy of this country as a student and now as an adult. I am still a Catholic and I have remarks to make in the light of the controversy or debate fuelled mostly by the Catholic Church regarding the RH Bill now about to be voted on.

One is that the Catholic hierarchy here has to educate itself much more than its present state of opinions exhibits. If it has to make rules and take stands on whatever issues, these should be thoroughly studied in the light of truth and fairness, freedom of thought and expression, accepted facts and scientific data even within the perspective of church teachings about right and wrong. Thus, they should know the facts about mining, what are and what are not abortifacients, how elephants should be managed, what is the line that must not be crossed into political transactions. In all these issues someone or the official stand of the hierarchy has expressed opinions, many of them extreme if not ludicrous and untenable. In matters like the RH bill, the environmental problems, even the elephant in the Manila Zoo, we hear churchmen using the most egregious reasons to make a stand which is so out of synch that undermines what they say from the beginning. Illogical, half-baked and simply automatically biased stands wears out their credibility to the audience addressed, except their unthinking followers.

It is happening over and over again and there seems no improvement from past mistakes of extremism and ignorance. And that may be the kindest thing to say.

Leaving the present controversy, I have experienced the irrational behavior of the Catholic hierarchy in the following ways which by now should be obsolete but seemingly are not:

Sometime in the 1950’s they blindly obeyed the unreasonable bias against the art of ballet dancing by the then papal nuncio. Without a dissenting voice or a plea for reason, upon his say-so, all Catholics were forbidden to have anything to do with ballet. All Catholic schools were conscripted to threaten their students with expulsion if they continued ballet studies. Ballet was demonized. Ballet performances were abolished. Ballet schools withered on the vine, ballet teachers were stripped of their livelihoods. My two sisters, my friends and classmates who were taking ballet had to stop or they would be expelled from their schools. Yet universally ballet was a revered art and accepted by civilization including by the Church everywhere else. But in the Philippines on the whim of the Catholic hierarchy with no papal bull, no theological argument, no dogmatic teaching, ballet was banned. The decree was sweeping, effectively killing ballet here for decades. Eventually that papal nuncio left, the animus against ballet was forgotten and it came back. Well and good, but wasn’t the war against it condemnable?

When I was about to graduate from high school in a small class of 13 students in Baguio, we were on the receiving end of warnings and threats about going to the University of the Philippines, the “godless” school that would ruin our souls. It was the usual prattle that would emanate in all Catholic schools just before graduation, perhaps based on some regulation from higher Church authorities. Finally, the bishop himself paid us a visit and ringingly brought down to us the dangers of going to UP. I had a scholarship to a Catholic school so while it did not affect my plans, I was somewhat perplexed by the high decibels. It certainly unnerved my classmates who were UP-bound. Some went anyway and their lives did not deteriorate to “godlessness.” And now UP is no longer reviled in Catholic schools, thank goodness and reason. This little episode of mind control, heavy-handed strictures and little logic rankled. It should not have happened.

Finally, when in college the bill on the mandatory reading of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo came up, there was a hue and cry from the Catholic hierarchy opposing it for its criticism of the colonial friars, We were catechized that reading these novels would bring hellfire on us. That these books were the devil’s work and a direct attack on the church.. Our erstwhile admirable teachers were called upon to testify against the novels even if they themselves had never read them. An official opinion had already come down and they were merely to echo it at the Senate. When they lost that battle, they continued the war by trying to have Catholic schools exempted. This was beyond logic. And today anyone can read these novels, go through Rizal’s portrayal of the good and the bad friars and not lose one’s faith.

This was another ill-thought, ill-advised and totally unnecessary war instigated by the Catholic hierarchy.

In the light of these past instances for which no official apology or exculpating explanation has ever been given by our Catholic hierarchy, their present rabid and irrational take on the RH bill becomes suspect for its tactics that eschew truth and fairness.

For example, there is no provision or mention of abortion in the RH bill but time and again it is invoked as part and parcel of the bill. This is at the very least misleading and perhaps closer to the truth, deliberate falsehood. Very few contraceptives are abortifacients as they have been sweepingly labeled. Yet time and again they are indiscriminately defined as such. Where in the bill is it said that families must be limited to two children? Yet we have heard ravings against that phantom provision. As an institution that claims moral ascendancy and as the shepherd of the majority of this country, it is to be expected that the debating givens it uses should be true and accepted by the other side. That and the other misrepresentations of a foreign conspiracy (as compared to advocacy) and an indifference to unacceptably high maternal deaths and the surveys showing an unmet demand to limit families particularly by poor women, is disappointing and infuriating. Why can’t Catholics in this country be treated as adults with consciences? Why can’t poor women be listened to? After numerous catechism lessons regarding conscience and how it is the highest feature of a decision-making process for Catholics, why is it suddenly cast aside and denigrated when it comes to deciding on the RH bill?

What seems to be the driving force in the dynamics of the Cahtolic Church and the Philippine State is power, for which all appeals to reason and fairness fall on deaf ears. Power has to be exercised at all costs even at the cost of truth and fairness. It is the institution as a power base that matters now, not why it was created in the first place. It can even consider allying with morally dubious elements for its ends. It is to be conceded that the Church has to give its opinion and underline its mandate but it is to be expected that it does so within the values that it has long preached -– truth, fairness, charity, compassion. And with an acceptance that whoever is addressed is an adult who will make up his or her mind according to conscience. As it is, we are in the “Do what I say not what I do” stage which indeed validates Rizal’s criticism of some religious in his novels, whose primary preoccupation is the need to control and dictate to their parishioners on the presumption that they are non-adults, do not have a conscience to make judgments.

I am treating this situation as one more of those extreme and biased incidents of which we are all too familiar with.


not quite carlos celdran: why i walked out of mass

criticaleye2. “not quite carlos celdran: why i walked out of mass.”  October 2010. 3 October 2010. <>.

MAKATI, Philippines – I can’t say I’m outraged. I don’t exactly know how I can neatly describe the emotion I feel right now after having walked out of mass. As I told a friend of mine, as I reflect on this day when I reach the big FOUR OH, I was hoping to bask in the blessing of having been given the gift of life and take time to “smell the roses” so to speak. But unfortunately, it was not to be.

I value and treasure my being in the Roman Catholic Church. I believe in the over-all goodness that it represents. I appreciate the time I am given to commune with individual priests, deacons and the lay religious who have gifted to me their time as I seek spiritual sustenance. Given, the overwhelming flock that they serve, I admire the dedication and commitment of the religious. And – I believe.

Yet, as I savor and soak up their teachings, I am also made aware by them of the fallibility of the individuals who have chosen to serve as men and women of God. They are fallible because like us, they are human beings. Even Archbishop Oscar Cruz said he would kneel and kiss the hand of Usec. Puno if it turns out that his jueteng allegations are proved wrong. But, you believe because you trust that the institution that they commit to – the Church, itself – will ultimately be there to keep in check the fallibility of its members. That the Church will ultimately in its collective wisdom and discernment stay true to the Faith.

But – my faith in the institution has been shaken.

This past week, we have seen heated exchanges between those who oppose and those who support the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. For transparency, I am not very familiar with the details of the bill. I can’t say I’m in favor nor can I say that I’m not in favor of it.

As with any proposed solution to a particular problem, it is very important to make sure that one understands what the problem is. In the case of the RH bill, this is quite contentious because not everyone agrees that there is a problem in the first place. The Catholic Church insists that there is no “overpopulation” issue in the Philippines. The proponents and supporters of the RH bill on the other hand say that there is and that this is the key contributory factor to poverty in the Philippines.

If one were to read between the lines, what both sides appear to be inferring is that poverty is the real issue. The RH bill people say that we need this bill to be able to address poverty by being able to maximize our resources when we are required to provide for fewer people.

The Church’s position is a little more nuanced. Let me digress a little bit with what will hopefully be a clarificatory discussion where we can compare both views with something close to an apples to apples comparison.

Having poverty in a country does not necessarily mean the entire nation is impoverished. Developed nations despite all their wealth all have poverty issues in one way or another. Poverty is generally said to be present in a country when a section of the population of that country lives below a certain level necessary to provide for an adequate standard of living.

If we were to boil this to math or economics, it would look something like this:

GDP / Population = GDP per capita

GDP per capita is one way by which the relative wealth of nations is measured. It basically shows what the average income of each person in a country would be if the country’s wealth was equally distributed among everyone in that country – walang labis, walang kulang. The Philippines has an annual GDP per capita of about $1,982 which would place us 108th of about 164 countries as ranked by the World Bank. The most common cut-off for the poverty line is income of $1.25 per day. Over a year that amounts to $456.25. By this standard alone, the Philippines could hardly be considered as impoverished.

The reality is that income is not equally distributed. Which is fine up to a certain point. Another reality is that some people based on luck, familial circumstances, hard work or a combination of all three will end up having more than others.

Did I digress too much?

My point is that both the pro and anti-RH bill sides have that commonality of trying to address the poverty issue (I’m hoping, anyway). The differences lie in their approaches based on their appreciation of the cause of this problem. The pro side says it is overpopulation, the Church says it is the unequal distribution of the country’s wealth, a significant portion of which is due to corruption.

I would submit that poverty could start to be addressed from both ends. Both sides would be ingenuous to suggest that theirs is the only solution as both acknowledge to a certain degree the other side’s position. The Church by saying population does need to be “managed” through natural means and by PNOY’s own campaign tagline “walang mahirap kung walang corrupt“.

So why did I walk out of Church?

I go to Church to be spiritually nourished. I am fine with a homily that touches on society’s ills or even a discussion of the Church’s stand on certain social issues. What I am not fine with is when you support a position with misleading facts and assertions. What I am not fine with is when these misleading and incomplete facts and assertions ultimately mis-educate the less discerning of your flock. Where is the morality in that?

I am not Carlos Celdran. While I was tempted to speak out during the homily, again, I am not Carlos Celdran. So, I chose to vote with my feet and walked out in the middle of mass.

With a following mostly composed of “cradle Catholics”, I daresay that the Philippine Roman Catholic Church has been severely remiss in its responsibility to educate its flock of the Catechism of the Church. A significant number (if not the majority) of Catholics in the Philippines have no solid grounding in the teachings, philosophy and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. When I was in the United States, I became a cursillista in the Diocese of San Bernardino (California). I learned more during our three-day retreat about my faith than the rest of my previous years combined. I also began to appreciate how ignorant I was of my faith. I had to go to a country where the Catholic faith is a minority to appreciate what it is to be Catholic. I had to go to that country to find people who could satisfy my thirst for knowledge of my own faith.

That it is an indictment of the abdication of this responsibility to “educate” and “form” by the Philippine Roman Catholic Church. It is not enough to be born Catholic. You have to be formed to live your life as a true Catholic. Otherwise, one becomes a Catholic in name only.

I would hate to think that this abdication is intentional. One could think that by keeping your flock in the dark, you are keeping them ignorant of what being a real Catholic is and that by so doing make it easier for them to just accept whatever it is that is being spoken from the pulpit. Bear in mind, however, that by keeping them ignorant, you are also leaving the gate open for every other religious denomination to poach in your backyard. When you cannot even arm every Catholic with an answer to the question – “why are you a Catholic” – how do you expect them stand firm and not succumb to every other sweet-talking Pastor Tom, Dick and Harry. How?

Despite all this, I recite Symbolum Apostolorum with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul because – I believe.

“Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad ínferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen.”

I guess I’ve vented enough…


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