Fungus of Faith

By Mayette Q. Tabada
Sun Star [Philippines]
June 15, 2003

Rainy days make me long for hot crunchy focaccia and mushrooms soaked in vinegar.

But last week's barrage of exposes on priest scandals has made me realize that, while certain fungi are good as stomach liners, some light-resistant varieties are pure poison when found germinating in my church.

My church," admittedly, has an odd ring to it. I'm one of those Catholics who, up to this day, are still asked "are you Catholic?" by a speaker who stops mid-stream in a scorching tirade against some Catholic quirk or abnormality.

What's unusual is that, in these days of Fr. Jing Mejorada, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Bishop Crisostomo Yalung and auxiliary bishop Teodoro Buhain Jr. - all men of the cloth deflecting and parrying charges of sex abuse - the accusatory question is framed by Catholics as frequently as by non-Catholics.

Being quick to judge and condemn, or similarly, to judge and absolve, is not a defect monopolized by any religion. It's a human condition.

However, this tendency to lash out against community members, isolating them as untouchables and sheathing the organic group against possible pollution by this contagion, is endemic in my church. We judge, like everyone else, but we particularly like judging ourselves.

On top of priests accused of violating women and minors' rights, priesthood vows and community trust are parishioners turning against the accusers, clergy leaders pronouncing the accusers' motives as darker" than the sins of the erring priests, women up against the patriarchal conspiracy, church leaders denouncing their own for breaching the silence, politicians lambasting media, media lambasting the church, church leaders using the pulpit to charge media, women, spaghetti pababa, pataas," everyone but the princes of the church because they're nowhere around to hear anyway.

That's not a church out there. That's a mob.

Does it still exist, this predominant religious community we call the Catholic faithful? A community is an organism whose parts recognize their existence as a whole, and function as such. The church abuse scandals reveal there is no community, no formation even along the acceptable and utilitarian delineations of leaders and followers.

The problem is not the sinning. My church, like other organizations, is only as healthy as its neuroses. But it is increasingly apparent that my church is not a group that is trying to keep things from breaking up. Ex post facto it has already broken up, into several cabals that are hard-lined into thinking the others are the problem while they alone are the solution.

My church is so different from the fellowship described by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life." In this community, everyone is part of the problem, as well as part of the solution. The community honors its leaders because the leaders honor them by serving. In Warren's church, everyone too is a sinner, but sinners who are mature about having to live with the tension of being and wanting to be.

A little sin is like being a little pregnant," observes Warren, "it will eventually show itself. So take off your mask, stop pretending you're perfect, and walk into freedom.

To your unspoken question, I am a Catholic, a member of my church, if such a thing exists. I am a Catholic who loves mushrooms and secrets, the fungus of my faith, lovely, lovely morsels that need absolutely no light to grow and feed and feed.


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