By the Windows: a Crisis of Faith

By H. Marcos C. Mordeno
Minda News [Philippines]
Downloaded June 19, 2003

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/18 June) -- The Philippine Catholic Church is facing tough times. Never in recent memory has it been confronted with a crisis of such magnitude as happened in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment hurled against Bishop Teodoro Bacani. The issue could not have generated so much controversy if the accused were just an obscure priest. But Bacani is a prominent church figure whose stand on certain social and political issues has presumably influenced policy-making.

The accusation is definitely disturbing to members of the church especially the laity. Their reaction is either one of disbelief or denial, or worse, irrational indignation toward the victim of Bacani's alleged misconduct. Faith in an institution, after all, tends to breed dogma and bigotry, which betrays its dark side whenever something appears to undermine that faith.

It does not help that Bacani went abroad after the issue became public. His reaction could be misconstrued as an act of cowardice, an attempt to evade the responsibility of facing the accusation, even if Msgr. Romy Ranada, his spokesperson, is trying to carry the cudgel for him.

Yet the efforts of his spokesperson and of the church for damage control might become futile. For one thing, Ranada virtually admitted the incident although he interjected that the bishop acted with no malice aforethought. At best, it could reassure some of the faithful. But the incident will still leave behind an ugly scar on the image of the church.

The scar will be there no matter how hard the church hierarchy would try to play down the issue or find ways to deflect public attention away from it.

A stiff sanction by the church against Bacani, presuming he is pronounced guilty by his peers, is far-fetched. The church has traditionally been lenient toward its errant officials. And given Bacani's stature, it is likely that his fellow bishops will abstain from passing judgment on his case if only to avert heavier repercussions. They know that a candid decision, whether in favor of or detrimental to Bacani, would bring about uncertainties. So, better let the people make their individual judgments.

If they do make a decision, it would be kept under wraps. The church is anything but open when it comes to scandals involving its leaders especially if these would diminish its moral ascendancy or put in question the validity of certain dogmas and policies (like celibacy?).

The Inquisition, for example, showed how far the church would go just to preserve its authority not only on moral and eschatological questions but also on matters that are considered too secular. As a result, even Galileo was forced to recant his theory that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. One story has it though that after the scientist publicly recanted, he shrugged and murmured, "It (Earth) still revolves anyway."

(Galileo was proven right not long afterward. However, it was only in the last decade of the previous century that the church officially admitted it was wrong in condemning him.)

Like the murderous Crusades, the Inquisition is a dark chapter in the church's history. However, it presaged a most wonderful era in European history: the Renaissance.

The scandals that have rocked the church might as well be seen in this manner, that is, as a precursor of better things to come. But these would only come about if the church shows more openness and compassion and an ability to confront reality.


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