Father, have mercy

By: Editorial July 09,2014 - 10:22 AM

If not for his apology for the tongue-lashing he gave an unwed mother during the christening of her child, Redemptorist priest Romeo Obach would have continued to alienate Catholics and other people of good will at the worst possible time.

A video of the priest’s ranting where he condemned the mother’s unmarried state as “shameful” and “twisted” was posted Sunday on Facebook. It went viral and drew the ire of netizens.

Perhaps confusing the event for a confession, Father Obach castigated the college student for having slept with a man and becoming pregnant out of wedlock.

If it were a real confession, admonishing someone for a wrongdoing would be part of the deal.
But the namecalling and humiliation, both cruel and public, was a betrayal of his role as a priest.

Instead of welcoming a child with love, and hopefully inspire his mother to return to the fold as well, Fr. Obach gave them both reason to feel unworthy of it all.

Didn’t Jesus Christ lay down guidelines for correcting a brother or sister? Do it in private. And even if the offender repeats the lapse, one should be treated with extra love.

Baptism ought to be a time to encourage parents and godparents, regardless of their past, to step up to the role of nurturing the spiritual life of the young in their care.

It should be joyful experience.

Instead Sunday’s gathering further scarred a teenager who already feels less than her worth.

The controversy broke around the time the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a statement exhorting the faithful to grow in mercy and compassion to prepare for Pope Francis’ January 2015 visit.

The Pope himself, half a world away, baptized the child of an unwed mother and then met with victims of clerical sex abuse to pray with them and ask for their forgiveness on behalf of perpetrators.

A non-Christian, the Dalai Lama, puts it succinctly:

We are in this world to help. If we cannot help, can we please not hurt?

Facebook became the instrument for a wounded family to raise their grievance to a wide audience with instant feedback.

Would Father Obach have apologized if the young mother’s family had not taken the case to social media?

Father Obach apologized in writing to the young mother, to her family and guests, and to everyone who saw the video of his uncharitable sermon.

For him to clinch it, though, he will have to follow up the letter with a personal meeting.

It’s not clear why he didn’t immediately go to the young mother’s house to give his apology.

Perhaps he hesitated about adding more emotion to the firestorm.

However, no one can say sorry sincerely without looking at the injured person in the eye.

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