Congressmen in Cassocks

Editor’s Note, we are republishing this with permission from the Black and White movement.

(In March 2008, BnW called a Roman Catholic Cardinal a “congressman in a cassock” for his staunch support of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in exchange for financial patronage through her Religious Affairs Office, we caused an uproar. Recent Senate hearings on questionable dealings between the Catholic Church and the previous PCSO Board have the people in a tizzy. Here’s a look back at what we suspected all along.)

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:01:00 03/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines – When Ricardo Cardinal Vidal was recently taken to task for showing partiality to the President, his critics were taken to task in turn. The whole thing has taken a regrettable emotional toll on the Cardinal and his defenders.

Due deference is owed the good Cardinal as the spiritual father of the Cebuanos. But whether president, prince of the church, or pauper, in matters that involve the public good, a democratic citizenry must put the lowest premium on respecting hierarchy. Respect the office, yes; respect the principles the office ought to represent most of all.

What must be paramount is for our spiritual shepherds to realize how they have been co-opted by political wolves.

The present administration handles the hierarchy in the same manner it handles congressmen. For this reason, anyone who objects to calling prelates “congressmen in cassocks” should lodge a complaint, not with those who say it, but with the Palace that made the comparison possible.

No other administration ever contemplated or needed a Religious Affairs Office; no other president needed a Dodi Limcaoco, a Nena Valdes, or those with a roving commission like Medy Poblador or Mike Defensor, to name just a few, to coordinate with the hierarchy the way the PLLO coordinates with congressmen. No previous president needed to dispense state funds to Catholic dioceses and charities by handing out envelopes or placing ads on Radio Veritas or involving the PCSO and other agencies in such a politically systematic fashion through the bishops.

Our prelates know their moral theology; they know how to receive patronage without sinning. In these poisonous times, these are acts, though, that serve to place the Church in disrepute.

When Cardinal Vidal met the President in Wack Wack Golf Course and discussed jobs, when he allowed Cerge Remonde to address his gathered clergy in a retreat, when he forbade the clergy from signing petitions, and when he and other prelates met officials in Malacañang, everyone needs to understand that from the point of view of the prelates concerned, what they did was licit.

But the hierarchy needs to understand how the public can view it as an illicit effort, at the very least, on the part of government, for such illicit behavior benefits the government politically. A political act of generosity always has a price, and it is a fine line that separates the naïve from the saints. If you will deal with the devil, you had better have the strength of an archangel. And this is why the generosity of the President, and her politically-shrewd operators, serves to divide and confuses the public, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

It also sends the wrong signal to overzealous subordinates.

When Cardinal Vidal was criticized for supposedly issuing instructions to the clergy to deny the Mass to Jun Lozada, the Cardinal denied ever issuing such instructions. I believe him.

Undoubtedly no memorandum was ever signed—but then again no one ever said the instructions had been given in written form. He didn’t need to issue any instructions, because his past actions are as unambiguous as any human act can be. For when he allowed Remonde to address the assembled priests of the archdiocese, approved the handing out of a government-prepared primer on NBN-ZTE, forbade petitions and interceded for schoolteachers with the President, the clergy knew right there and then on which side their archbishop stood—and assumed they’d be expected to act accordingly.

No need for instructions, no need for prohibitions; once Cardinal Vidal showed partiality his priests took the cue: and as subordinates tend to do, probably with greater zeal than the Cardinal ever imagined. It wouldn’t surprise me if perhaps a priest or two, to salve his own conscience, maligned his Cardinal by whispering to angry nuns that they would not say Mass because the Cardinal said so—when he only implied and was never explicit about denying anyone the Mass. This is how our culture works: the boss winks, and everyone beneath him does the nudging.

Whether implied or explicit, the consequences of the Cardinal’s behavior were grave. For the display of archiepiscopal partiality essentially placed an Interdict (“a sentence barring a person, or esp. a place, from ecclesiastical functions and privilege”) on Lozada, a sanction of the Church almost at the level of an Excommunication.

And here lies the question at the heart of the criticisms against Cardinal Vidal: not even Marcos faced such ecclesiastical sanctions.

For this reason, it is fair to appeal to the Cardinal to confront the questions that have been raised, and not by means of an appeal to his authority. If no one can question the desire of the clergy to uphold the Mass as a sacrament, what needs to be questioned is whether there’s Christian justice in denying the Mass to anyone, knowing that denial represents the highest and most fearsome sanction in the power of the episcopacy. What is his discernment? Does he remain neutral? If not, why not?

Let the shepherd speak. Politicians allied with the President are not the Cebuano people. The clergy of Cebu is not the Catholic Church in Cebu. There were Cebuanos who wanted to hear Jun Lozada for themselves, to judge him, for good or ill. That some of Lozada’s supporters treated a heckler violently and discourteously is what should have provoked holy anger from the Cebuano clergy, united with their Cardinal-archbishop.

Cardinal Vidal knows full well that the CBCP has already declared NBN-ZTE, and everything else, to be a national concern. The people of Cebu deserve more than an insistence on the feudal belief that presidential sins of omission and commission are acceptable so long as patronage for the province keeps rolling in.

# # #

Manuel L. Quezon III, at the time of writing this piece, was an opinion writer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Today, he is the Undersecretary of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning and a well-respected Blogger.

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Guest Writer

  • Thai anton

    So please enumerate Pnoy accomplishment from 1998 to 2010 for when he work as representative of TarlAc and as a senator ???? Please ??

  • UP nn grad

    MLQ3’s article provides the Malacanang administration with enough so that President Noynoy can announce an Executive Order that affirms the separation between State and Religious Organizations. In fact, all Presi-Noynoy has to do is lift words straight from Pilipinas Constitution, then cite specific examples like banning PCSO and any GOCC and government-agency from making donations of money and “in kind”, preventing an GOCC and goernment-agency from putting advertisements that benefit one or more religious groups. Meeting with “congressmen in cassocks” to discuss ReproHealth, of course, should be acceptable. Soliciting “congressmen in cassocks” imprimatur during campaigns — that should be acceptable, too. As long as there are no transfers of money or “in kind” by GOCC or government agency to a religious organization.

    Now, this can put a crimp onto the common practice where Pilipinas government transfers students out of public into private schools (usually run by nuns) —- I guess this may be another reason why Malacanang should accelerate the building of at least five hundred new schools (and hiring the teachers!). Maybe an accelerated school-building program happens in 2014 after Presi-Noynoy has convinced the Makati Business Club that he will still deliver what MBC wanted him to do — no new taxes.

    • Releasing an Executive Order just to restate Constitutional provisions is ridiculous. Better to urge Congress to amend the PCSO charter to prevent crap like that happening again.

      Also, the educational voucher system isn’t unconstitutional, although it skims dangerously close. Even if run by a religious order – as most of our private schools are – the primary purpose of the voucher is to subsidize private education, NOT to fund religious groups. The mere fact that some private schools are NOT run by religious organizations is enough to defend its constitutionality, flimsy as it may seem.

      • UP nn grad

        raggster: Open your eyes, read history. Presence of words in 1987 Constitution are poof-worthless unless there are implementing laws or there are written-on-paper decisions by Pilipinas Supreme Court on a court-case. Evidence one — anti-dynasty clause. Evidence-two — the very same thing we talk about above — separation church state.

        Which is why (… to me…) one of Presi-Noynoy’s biggest accomplishments in his first year in office is EO-1 (which resulted in Pilipinas Supreme Court affirming the protections enjoyed by Pinoys and Pinas-in-Pinas against Malacanang first declaring guilt and then using state resources to find court-admissible-evidence to prove what Malacanang has declared ).

      • UP nn grad

        Speaking of PCSO, where is the Commission on Audit?

        I wonder if the last COA report even mentioned the possibility of anomalies at PCSO or at other GOCC’s?

        .Article IX, Section 4 of 1987 Constitution requires the Commission on Audit to provide .. an annual report covering the financial condition and operation of the Government, its subdivisions, agencies, and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and non-governmental entities subject to its audit, and recommend measures necessary to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. . . .

  • Thai anton

    You guys should sue GMA for malversation of public funds , then put her to jail . Maybe then Pnoy govt can start governing.

    Please enumerate Pnoy abnoys accomplishment during his 10 year
    tenure in senate ????? Please humor me please.

    • UP nn grad

      come on, thai… you know that Senator Aquino’s prime claim to fame is that he was an aggressive FiscaLizer so that there are no kurakot in the AFP/PNP (and in highways!). Senator Aquino did not push new laws, he was aggressive FiscaLize- ER to catch (if not prevent) pabaon and cost-overrruns in PNP/AFP contracts and projects..

      • UP nn grad

        Actually, Fisca-LIZE-er is his fifth claim to fame.

        First is being son-of-Cory. Second is being a political-protege-of-Cory. Third is being son-of-Ninoy. Fourth is being the son-of-Cory who was elected to Congress, then elected to Senate.

        But past is less important than all the things Presi-Noynoy gets to eventually accomplish between October 1, 2011 and the day he leaves Malacanang.

        • UP nn grad

          I forgot another claim-to-fame : winning majority — winning 54% of votes in the last Pilipinas presidential elections.

    • Aquino was in Senate only 3 years. He ran in the middle of his first term. Trolling fail.