The separation between Church and faith

This is the complete essay I submitted. What you read in the papers and the earlier links were the edited.

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 16, 2012 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

MANILA, Philippines – As I write this, the RH bill is being debated in both houses of congress and will soon be put to a final vote. The whole RH issue has been bruising for everyone. Both sides of the issue have galvanized their forces for all-out war where each is claiming moral ascendancy. One may say both sides have been bloodied. And both have, at times, behaved badly.

I have had many discussions with proponents of both camps. I admit I am pro-RH. I also admit that I am for women’s right to choose to be informed so they can plan their families and have more control over their own lives. And yes, I have read the bill.

I still do not understand when bishops claim that the bill is pro-abortion when it clearly states it isn’t. Are they stupid or illiterate? Of course not! So why are they saying this, and so many other absurdities that insult the intelligence of many Filipinos, Catholics and non-Catholics alike?

The answer is simple. They fear that the RH bill is the last stronghold before full secularization takes over this bastion of Catholicism that is the Philippines. They fear that soon it will be followed by divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. They feel they are losing sway over the population. The issue is power.

As many have noticed, the bishops will say anything, do everything — lie, cheat, intimidate, threaten and fool the people to win this war. And they have on their side the politicians who are willing to do cartwheels to nail the so-called Catholic vote. I do not know how this will play out in the end but one thing is becoming clear: more and more Catholics are aghast at the way their Mother Church has handled itself on this issue.

The Church has done more condemning over the RH bill than at any time I can remember. I lived through martial law, the Erap and PGMA eras, and I have not seen a more spirited negative campaign mounted by the Church as this one. In the past, churchmen and women have spoken out and risked their lives in defense of rights and certain moral issues, and I admire them deeply for that. But the Church as an institution never did shout with this level of vehemence as it does now.

In light of this condemnation gap, I wish to ask the bishops this: Is wearing a condom really a bigger sin than the suspension of human rights of an entire nation involving torture, extrajudicial killings and unprecedented levels of corruption?

Many Catholics are shocked at the behavior of some of their leaders. They see them as not only arguing with flawed reasoning but resorting to name-calling and behaving less than scrupulously by condemning everyone who is not on their side of this issue.

Gone is Christian tolerance and compassion in accepting that people who are not on their side may have arrived at their position after much examination of conscience and prayer. Gone is the humility that accepts the possibility that the Church could be on the wrong side of the issues. After all, it has been wrong many times before.

In place of humble discernment and respectful tolerance is an arrogance and dangerous bravado that makes some of them say the most incendiary and idiotic things, the most recent of which is blaming the devastation of Typhoon Pablo on support for the RH bill.

How is it, dear bishop, that God would choose to kill hundreds of poor helpless people, including women and children, because the country is discussing the RH bill? Isn’t He a God of compassion and love? How does mass murder fit into the paradigm of love? Is it not entirely possible and more plausible that the reason for the typhoon is we now live in a new world of climate change where nature is behaving differently and so typhoons like Pablo and Sendong are now more common and frequent? Aren’t you totally out of line, dear bishop?

What is a Catholic to do when confronted with idiocy and vexation from the leaders of the faith? What is a Catholic to do when he/she believes with all his/her heart, soul and conscience that passing the RH bill is an act of compassion that will help the poor and ignorant in our society exercise more control over their bodies and their lives, a stand the Church sneers at? What is a Catholic to do when his/her leaders are silent in the face of ridiculous assertions of anti-RH politicians who defend plagiarism, lie about facts, and kowtow to the church for no other reason than to preserve and promote their political careers?

And what does it profit the Church if it gains in the political and temporal sphere but loses its reason, and conscience, and many of its educated followers?

I have yet to hear the bishops condemn guns, cigarettes, alcohol, junk food, and other vices that are clearly harmful to life. Why is there a fixation on the unborn but a deafening silence on issues affecting the living? Are you really just pro-pregnancy or pro-life in the full sense of the word? I have also yet to understand how the RH bill is worse than genocide, as another bishop asserted.

Many Catholics are trying to find the space where they can still keep their faith while following the dictates of their conscience, which means rejecting all that they see wrong and rotten in the behavior of many of the leaders of the church.

That is the dilemma we face today, and the squeeze is getting tighter. I have met a number of priests who feel this too. They understand, empathize and even quietly support the laity who are in this situation. But they do so quietly through text and private conversations.

Many of my friends have taken the position of simply ignoring the bishops, hoping that they will eventually fade away. Many are hoping that the church gets hit by lightning, the way Saul was, and begin to see the light. I really do not know how else to cope with this situation, short of leaving the church, as many have done.

The RH bill is only one issue. More and more, issues such as gay rights, same-sex marriage, women priests and divorce will have to be faced squarely. If the church does not take a more tolerant, inclusive stance, it may lose many more good people. A positive step it can take is to accept that many conscientious Catholics stay up at night tackling these issues as honestly as they can, and still end up on the other side of Church teaching as it stands today. In my view, they are living honestly, which sadly means, they live the reality of the separation between church and faith.