Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shouldn't bishops also speak with compassion?


My March 31, 2015 column.
As expected, our bishops have come up with a strongly-worded position paper against divorce on account of moves to push a bill in Congress that seeks to legalize divorce in the Philippines.  The bishops knew that the bill was dead on arrival at the committees, but they just had to assert themselves -  perhaps because they really wanted to send a strong warning.  
No one in his right mind expected the divorce bill to actually get through Congress, particularly on the eve of a crucial national elections.  The  legislators who are championing divorce can huff and puff all they want, but let’s get real - most of them are scared of the Catholic bishops.  Sure, there is no such thing as a Catholic vote in this country, but our bishops and the catholic organizations know how to play hard ball.  When push comes to shove, such as when congressmen and senators become the object of relentless demonization at the pulpit, how many of them can do a Duterte - that is, take out a huge billboard in a major thoroughfare and mock a priest?   And then there is the matter of the so-called Catholic guilt which is deeply entrenched in our DNA, thanks to 300 years of conditioning by the Spanish friars.   Regardless of the strength of our convictions, how many among us can actually stand up to someone in a cassock and tell him his opinions smack of misogyny?
Even if our senators and congressmen can withstand the pressure from priests, they can turn puny in the hands of their wives, who must maintain a stature in their communities through socio-civic and religious involvement.  In the words of the usually brilliant and erudite Senator Serge Osmena,  “I cannot favor divorce law, my wife might use it against me.”  Obviously, divorce is not for happily married couples and those who have no plans of separating from their spouses and I doubt if the presence of a divorce law will encourage them to sever their marital ties either, but lest we forget, making logical deductions are not among the required competencies of our leaders.   
But then again, who are we really kidding?  There’s hardly enough time left for the measure to get through the legislative rigmarole before Congress goes on recess.  As it is, Congress is already crammed with bills that have been festering in some committees for decades already, many of them, such as the Fair Competition Act, certified urgent and badly needed years ago.  Let’s not even talk about the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill which as we all know would help rid us of unqualified and incompetent politicians whose only claim to power is their family name.  And then there’s the Basic Bangsamoro Law, which will require intensive and passionate discussion.
For these and many other reasons, I don’t think the divorce bill is going to be enacted into law in our life time.  
This being so, one wishes our bishops can take the time to speak with a little more empathy and compassion for those who truly need the protection and the solace that can be offered by a divorce law rather than scolding people and judging them. 
The statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines over the weekend was an indictment of people who find themselves victimized or trapped in unhealthy relationships.  The statement basically said that people who cannot make their marriages work are immature people, or at least are people who are too lazy to work at their marriage.  These are tough words for people who don’t know what it is like to be married; at least the majority of them, I’d like to think, since I know quite a number of priests who are actually married and have families on the side.
 “The supposed suffering that a spouse must bear owing to a failed marriage is more imagined than real and comes only upon one who does not make use of the remedies already available under existing law” said the statement.  Those words not only represent intolerance but also ignorance as well.  Contrary to what the bishops think, the supposed remedies are not really readily available.  They take a lot of time, they cost money, and they fail at giving most victims the justice they so deserve, or at the very least, the opportunity to pursue second lease on life and happiness. 
In this season of reflection and recollection, and given what the country is going through at the moment, one wishes that our bishops lead the way in ushering in an atmosphere of openness and caring, indulging in dialogue that accentuates kindness and humility.  Rather than condemn, we can teach.  Instead of judging others, we can encourage reflection.  There is a lot of space in our current situation for acceptance and respect for each other, even if we do not share the same opinions.

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