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Reeling from the resounding victory of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, the Philippine Catholic Church has decidedly jumped in the electoral fray (despite the constitutional separation of church and state) to influence the outcome of the country's 2013 elections. The church recently launched a “Team Buhay/Team Patay” (Team Life/Team Death) campaign that identifies legislators running for re-election who voted against or for the RH Bill. Those who voted against the bill are part of Team Life, while those who voted for the bill are part of Team Death—at least as far as the Church is concerned.
Deciding they weren’t going to take such blatant coercion from the church sitting down, supporters of the RH Bill created a Team Tatay (Team Father) where they planned to indentify Philippine Catholic priests who had fathered children and expose them to the public. In a church forum in Intramuros, Manila on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 it seemed to all come to a head when Fr. Melvin Castro, an executive-secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) publicly admitted that, yes indeed some Filipino Catholic priests had fathered children despite their vow of chastity. But Castro quickly added that priests who father children are really not the issue. The real issue—from the Philippine Catholic Church’s perspective—is the move to defeat legislators who voted for the RH Bill in the upcoming election.
In a way we agree with Fr. Castro. Filipino priests fathering children is not the main issue here. The real issue for us is what the Church does after it finds out that a priest has fathered a child. Are these erring priests reprimanded or expelled from the priesthood? Are they shunned by fellow clergymen for violating their holy vow of chastity? Are they seen as morally weak and thus undeserving of the priesthood? Or are they instead tolerated and allowed to carry on as though nothing happened? Are they allowed to continue administering the sacraments? Do they continue to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, baptize babies and solemnize weddings? We would like to know what fate befalls Filipino priests who fall from grace. Does the Philippine Catholic church keep documented histories of what actions it takes after it discovers that a priest has fathered a child?
With the Filipino penchant for keeping quiet, looking the other way, and sweeping things under the rug, it is highly probable that the church does nothing to punish the erring clergy. More likely, fathering children is even tacitly tolerated by the Philippine Catholic hierarchy.
An American Cardinal Roger Mahony—currently in Rome as part of the conclave of Cardinals choosing the next Pope—recently agreed to settle out of court four child abuse cases that will cost his diocese close to $10 million. A embarrassing revelation for the Cardinal at the worst possible time. Though hardly in the running for the papacy, the negative publicity Mahony is now getting has suddenly removed even the remotest chance of his being considered to head the Holy See.
And although our own Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is seen as a long shot for the Papacy this time around, at 55 years of age, he will most likely be around for the next conclave, with a much better chance of making Pope. But that will only happen if the Filipino Cardinal can effectively “clean house” and remove all the skeletons his fellow clergymen have left in his closet. Like Mahoney's, a scandal at the wrong time about Filipino priests who break their vows and make babies, then go unpunished could ruin the good and deserving Cardinal’s chances of ever making Pope. Published 3/13/2013