PAST FORWARD: An embarrassment of sex and riches?

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales March 11,2019 - 07:00 AM



Coming on the heels of the most extraordinary meeting of all heads of Catholic bishops councils all over the world in the Vatican, the recent report of an alleged rape of a minor by a priest in Dumanjug is the last thing Cebuano Catholics would have wanted to hear.

The news could not have come at a worse time: Australian media had just reported last week the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for sexual offenses he made when he began his career as head of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Meanwhile early this year, Netflix began airing a three-part series on allegations of sexual abuses by priests in Spain and the resulting cover-up made by fellow priests and other members of the Catholic hierarchy there.

And, if this may be a good indication, at Fully Booked there are suddenly many, many more copies of “Altar of Secrets: Sex. Politics and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church,” published way back in 2013, when just months ago you couldn’t find even one copy.

Is this the beginning of the end of the Catholic Church in the Philippines? Of course not!

I see this continuing trend that began in the early 2000s as the beginning for the Roman Catholic Church, led by Pope Francis, to finally face the demon that has long been whispered (and suppressed) all around: that pedophilia and sexual predation abound in this religious organization that enshrines celibacy. Now, I am no theologian and have no pretensions about knowing the inner workings of the Roman Catholic Church. Neither do I have any opinion for or against celibacy but scholars are starting to suspect that this may be connected somehow with the sexual abuses that have occurred.

The ultra-conservatives in the Vatican, meanwhile (at least those among them who have no skeletons in the closet), are blaming homosexuality as the tool of the devil in rending asunder the church, failing to look at the vast number of sexual abuse cases in the United States alone that do not involve boys as victims.

For the Philippine Catholic hierarchy, I would venture to suppose, this is the best time to cleanse its ranks of the unworthy: not just of sexual predators among their brethren but also those who have used their position—and the pulpit—to amass riches and wealth in astounding and very openly scandalous and embarrassing proportions. Oh, the whispers and unprintable rumors I have heard passed around about this or that priest or this or that monsignor and his luxuries.

I am reminded of a friend who attended Mass recently and was shocked at the announcement of all these rich donors here and there at the beginning of this or that part of the Holy Mass. My friend, quite a wealthy church donor at that, felt so shocked and at the same time so ashamed that the highest expression of his faith, the Holy Mass, was turning out like a fund-raising scheme with the priest acting as Master of Ceremonies! It was alas his first time to attend mass in that particular church. He does not expect to return there anytime soon.

Fortunately for the Catholic Church in this country, the extreme religiosity of Filipinos will prevent any immediate departure of a large segment of the flock. But already other Christian denominations and sects, purporting to be the true path to eternal salvation (and hence there must be so many paths!) are making inroads and recruiting not from other religions but from the Roman Catholic Church.

The immediate challenge is for bishops and archbishops to bravely face the realities on the ground and do something to save the church from the sins of a small but nonetheless significant segment of its pastors. This is not the time for mere slaps on the wrist. This is the time for the right decision and swift action, no matter how embarrassing it will be for the perpetrator.

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