Strength in Repentance

By Fermin D. Adriano, Ph.D.
The Manila Times [Philippines]
Downloaded July 11, 2003

THE statement of apology issued by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for the sexual and financial misconduct of some of its priests and bishops strengthens, rather than weakens, the Catholic Church as an institution that serves as the moral guardian of the public. Rather than attempting to cover up such misdeeds, the Church bravely admitted to such transgressions and asked forgiveness from its flock.

Two cases have recently rocked the foundation of the Church. The first was the accusation by a parishioner against former Antipolo Bishop Jose Yalung that he fathered two kids with her. And the second was the sexual harassment charge leveled against former Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani by his secretary. The high-profile status of the two bishops ensured widespread coverage of the scandal by the media. This has embarrassed the Church to no end.

Though the cases of the two bishops are still being examined by an appropriate body, the Church already deemed it judicious to issue an apology. Furthermore, to show sincerity in its penance, it ordered priests who have children from illicit affair to support their kids without burdening their parishioners. This means that the concerned priest will have to get material support from his family to be able to meet his obligation.

Also, it announced that major changes would be instituted in the training program for seminarians to prevent the occurrence of similar offenses.

The courageous manner by which the Church confronted a problem that has the potential of undermining its credibility as an institution sharply contrasts with the manner by which individuals/institutions in the country that committed grievous sins against our people have conducted themselves. Instead of asking forgiveness, they even have the gall of changing our history to suit their purpose.

A prime example is the Marcos family who up to this day has refused to ask forgiveness for plundering our economy and causing the summary execution of many innocent people during the martial law period. Instead of repenting for their sins, they feign no knowledge of our history particularly those that transpired during their rule.

Similarly, the military establishment has never apologized for their role in instituting a dictatorial regime that wrought havoc not only on our economy but on the very foundation of professionalism in the military. Until now, many corrupt practices that persist in the military and police hierarchy are legacies of the dictatorship.

Business establishments that profited enormously from the Marcos authoritarian rule hardly acknowledge their previous wrongdoings. Their wealth was literally borne on the shoulders of the toiling masses, who up to now are still hoping that some form of reparations are given to them by these rapacious companies.

In the same fashion, Congress has never asked for forgiveness for the mediocrity that has become the landmark of this institution. Worse, some of our legislators even had the temerity of defending convicted criminals such as ex-congressmen Romeo Jalosjos and Mark Jimenez.

Another institution that has been assaulted during the past few days is the judiciary. The appointment of ex-congressman Dante Tinga and a couple of others whose credentials largely boast of their political closeness with the President rather than belonging to the elite circle of our legal luminaries severely undermines the credibility of our Supreme Court.

Finally, widespread corruption in selected agencies under the Executive Branch and the inability of some to immediately respond to the needs of their clients have made people cynical about their government and uncertain about their future. Yet, none of these agencies and their staff has apologized to the people for the lousy services that they render.

The Church, to its credit, has done what the others are afraid to do. It has admitted that it committed wrongdoings. But it promised that it would institute reforms in the institution to prevent–or minimize–the occurrence of similar transgressions in the future. More than that, it is willing to punish offenders, once guilt has been established. In other words, it is willing to live up to what it preaches that restitution is an indispensable element of penance.

In the context where the integrity of various institutions in the country is under attack, the "cleansing process" happening in the Church conducted in a transparent manner is important for the very survival of our identity as a people. Institutions provide the continuity wherein the culture and history of the people are preserved. Institutions establish predictability and certainty over ways people conduct or transact their relationships.

It is no wonder that under a democracy, the development of institutions is critical in strengthening it. The rule of law, of fairness, and of justice can only be assured if there are existing institutions that guarantee their enforcement. The Church is part and parcel of this institutional set up as it provides important inputs on public morality.

The sincerity by which the Church apologized for the misdeeds of its priests and bishops and its attempt to make amends to prevent/minimize the occurrence of similar offenses, do not only strengthen it as a credible and lasting institution in the country. It also strengthens the cause of democracy as an institution that is based on the highest standard of public morality.


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