On Jun 21, 2018 members of the clergy appeal to Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to stand up to President Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks against the Catholic Church. Father Robert Reyes also calls on the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines to address the issue of gun ownership among priests.
On Easter Day, I’ve thought a lot about the love/hate relationship that I have with God and Christianity. I tend to drive both Christian fundamentalists and atheists crazy because I don’t have a black and white view of God or the Christian church. I see the Church in shades of grey. When I think of the Church, I see a mix of very good and very bad. The situation in the Philippines exemplifies my mixed feelings towards the Christian church, especially the Catholic Church.
On the one hand, I deeply admire the priests, nuns and lay people who are risking their lives speaking out against President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of extrajudicial killings and these Catholics continued defense of the poor and indigenous people. Many of them have been threatened publicly by Duterte, been harassed, some have been jailed, and a few priests have gotten killed.
The courage of these priests and nuns contrasts with the caution of current Cardinal Tagle. Tagle and the Philippine cardinals oppose the extrajudicial killings as well. The Catholic Bishops have made several statements against extrajudicial killings and have dedicated a few masses to the victims of extrajudicial killings. But Cardinal Tagle has been more circumspect in criticizing President Duterte and his policies. Many priests and nuns wish Cardinal Tagle would be as outspoken as the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, who was vocal in opposing Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law in the 1970s and 1980s and mobilized the Catholic Church in opposition to Marcos’s government.
I think this is very similar to the debate between the responses of Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII towards Hitler and the Holocaust. Pope Pius XI was the pope during most of the 1930s. At first, Pius XI didn’t realize just how much of a threat Hitler was. But as Hitler’s aims became more clear, Pius XI became more openly critical of Hitler. On March 14, 1937, Pius had his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge smuggled into Germany and read in all the Catholic pulpits that condemned “the so-called myth of race and blood”, the idea of a superior race, and totalitarianism. Pius XI supported British efforts to help Jewish refugees. On June 1938, Pius XI secretly asked 3 Jesuit priests to draft an encyclical (Humani generis unitas) that would explicitly condemn the Nazi’s fascism, racism and antisemitism. Sadly Pius XI died on February 10, 1939, without being able to publicly deliver the encyclical.
The succeeding Pope, Pius XII, decided not to release the encyclical, though he would put segments of Humani generis unitas in his encyclical Summi Pontificatus that sympathized with Jews but did not explicitly condemn Nazi antisemitism. Though Pius XII was privately opposed to Hitler and he allowed convents and monasteries to secretly shelter Jews, he never explicitly condemned Nazi anti-Jewish policies. The debate remains: Should the Catholic Church have explicitly condemned Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies as Pope Pius XI was going to do? Or did Pope Pius XII do the right thing in allowing individual priests and nuns to secretly work behind the scenes to help Jews but not allow the Church to take a public position against the Holocaust?
The Philippines Catholic Church faces a similar debate. Should the Catholic Church follow Cardinal Sin’s example when he publicly condemned Ferdinand Marcos’s Martial Law and he rallied the whole Church against an authoritarian government? Or is Cardinal Tagle doing the right thing in refraining from criticizing Duterte but allowing individual priests and nuns to risk their lives to protest Duterte’s extrajudicial killings and defend vulnerable communities?