Archbishop Fernando Capalla:
"Dialogue Is the Only Human Way to Solve Problems"

Minda News [Philippines]
July 12, 2003

CITY -- He is to take on the presidency of the powerful Catholic Bishops Conference of the , at a time when his beloved Church is gripped by scandals and controversies.

He faces pressing public demand for personal and church action while violence, drugs, and sex reassert themselves on the streets of .

Parts of stand at the edge of all-out war, yet he continues to dream of peace.

What does he have to say about these and other developing issues?

Archbishop Fernando Capalla of , also co-convenor of the Mindanao Bishops-Ulama Conference, gave his comments on various issues in an exclusive interview with freelance journalist, Dennis Temporal on Thursday, July 10.

On the Bacani Sexual Harassment Scandal

Q: How did you react when you first heard about the sexual harassment accusation against your brother bishop, Teodoro Bacani?

A: On the one hand, it was shocking, a big surprise. But after a few seconds of reflection I said to myself, it's nothing new in the Church. There were worst things that happened in the Church before... we are a Church of saints and sinners, so (it's) not really surprising because we are weak human beings. Kaya lang (but) what really makes me wonder is why it was given a lot of prominence by (the) media.

Q: How would you react to the way the media covered the entire issue, not only the Bacani controversy but even the one about Bishop Yalung?

A: It happened also in the past, involving bishops, but there was not such a big issue that people created. So, I was thinking about the attitude of the media people today… I noticed some people who wrote to the media, accusing the media of unfairness, (like) some priests in Manila… that really makes me think that our media people today need a lot of formation also, especially Christian or Catholic media practitioners. We need to inform them about what the Church is, how to report on the Church. Because we are not a secular society.

Q: What would have been a "more formed" way of reporting such an issue?

A: In my previous column (at the Davao Catholic Herald), I mentioned that if the media people are really Christians, then what they did would be a case of washing our dirty linen in public, because they are members of the same family. And in the Filipino cultural context, that should not happen because the family is the highest Filipino value. But since they did it, it means to say that the family is no longer a very high value for the media people. And communication has broken down among the members of the Church, and other values have superseded the family. And the Church is a family. So, there is something to be said about the faith of the media people, you know. I know that justice should be done but we have procedures in canon law (for such matters).

Q: What about the accusations, not only by the media, but by different sectors in our society that the Church, at least with the Yalung and Bacani issues, practiced some kind of secrecy or protectionism. What is your reaction to that?

A: Well it's still part of the Church procedure to keep confidential matters, to keep the confidentiality of a case, you know. I don't think people have the right to break confidentiality because that's a question of justice and word of honor. That seems to be the American attitude, but in the it's not like that. Because in , they call it a cover up. But it's not a cover up. It's part of the practice of the Church to keep confidential matters like that… so that you will protect both (victim and accused). Because we are not talking of strangers here but members of the same family united together by the Spirit.

Q: What about the pastoral guidelines or protocol on sexual misconduct by priests recently issued by the CBCP. What is at the heart of this protocol?

A: It's our response to criminal offense committed by clergy men. Criminal offense. It has nothing to do with formation or behavior. But this is when a priest, or a bishop, or a religious is accused of criminal offense, then this is the procedure. This is limited to how the Church should address a criminal offense…

Q: Did the Bacani scandal do anything to push this protocol or was it really on schedule?

A: Well, it was already planned as soon as the American issues came out in the media, we already started to prepare ourselves.

Q: What for you is the real problem behind these sex-related scandals in the and now, here in the ? Is it a matter of formation or human nature?

A: Because of this…, (reads from a copy of the protocol) "we are presently looking into our program of seminary formation to ensure, as far as it is humanly possible, that our future priests, religious, and bishops shall be persons of true integrity after the manner of Christ." That to me is the focus of the whole issue: the way people are formed in the seminaries and the ongoing formation after that.

Q: Are you saying that the current formation for seminarians is inadequate?

A: Very inadequate in general. For many, many reasons: for lack of good formators and spiritual directors, counselors, and also the support that should be coming from the lay people is not there.

Q: Do you mean finances?

A: No. You see, it's okay with the religious because they have a community. Now, the diocesan priests, as soon as they're ordained, they're alone in the parishes, you know. When they have problems they don't know where to go to. Supposed to be, the Christian community adopts them or welcomes them into their families. But it is very rare that you have priests who are at home with certain families… I am calling a meeting of all the lay leaders here next week… and I will ask them to help in supporting priests in their lives.

At the same time also, there are many, many priests who we do not know, who are really struggling and are succeeding, you know, but they do not get into the media, they're not reported. Otherwise, the Church would have collapsed a long time ago if there were no dedicated people.

Q: Are you in effect saying that celibacy is one of the secrets why the Church has endured through the centuries?

A: I believe so. Celibacy is a gift to a person which enables (that) person to totally give a gift of himself to God.

Q: What can the Filipino people, especially the Catholic faithful, expect from the Church leadership in the now that we are moving on from this issue?

A: This is a moment of purification. And always, when the Church is affected with a crisis, then there is a purification and something good comes out of that: a renewed Church, a renewed clergy and a renewed laity. That's why in the liturgy of the Easter Sunday we say, "Felix culpa" --- happy fault, because it merits us a Redeemer.

On the Summary Killings

Q: On a different issue altogether… what are your comments about the reemergence of summary killings in ?

A: Two years ago, I issued a pastoral letter on the Davao Death Squad and the title is, "Thou Shall Not Kill." And I stated there the moral principles of the Church… that the (members of the) DDS who eliminate drug pusher suspects are also criminals; they are taking the law into their own hands. And the same I say with the killings now here… you cannot eliminate a person who is only a suspect. He has his rights. They asked me to speak about it. Tomorrow (July 11) there will be a press con here. I will say something about it.

Q : Would you care to give a statement on record now?

A: I will restate what I said in the pastoral letter: those are condemnable actions on the part of the DDS and those who are supporting them are also liable, (they) are also accomplices. But then, I will not go to the extent of blaming anybody in authority. I prefer to dialogue with the mayor, and with the PNP head here, and the military. A dialogue in private.

Q: What would be the topic of such a dialogue?

A: The morality of the action of the so called (DDS); what are the moral principles that apply to them.

Q: Would you say that you are unhappy about the way this problem is being addressed?

A: I am unhappy about the way it is being done.

Q: Do you think is becoming the "killing fields" of the once again?

A: Yes, you can say that, you can say that now.

On Other Social Issues

Q: Peace continues to elude . How would you judge the way President Arroyo is handling the (conflict) situation here?

A: A few months before, I thought that she was very strong and closed to other ideas. But later on, she mellowed down and she is open now to lifting the arrest warrants on the MILF leaders. But before, she was very strong and I think she was influenced by the "hawks" in the military. But the "doves" in the cabinet are very few. (The hawks), they all want war.

The mayor, the president, or the governor, is what we call in Latin, "Fulcrum unitatis" --- the center of unity of the people. They should unite all factions, all sectors or groups. But if you begin to hurt another sector… you will not last long…

Q: Is the president hurting some sectors here in ?

A: When she ordered the one in Siocon, many innocent Muslims were victims. And the evacuees in Pikit, that is the result of her decision. The people who suffered there, who died also there, the children, whose fault is that? Just one decision of the president, the military started this war. So, who is responsible for that? There must be somebody responsible --- that is the head of state who gives a go signal for the military… The damage has been done. Somebody has to be responsible…

Q: There is an increase of prostitution and pornography in the streets of at night. What is your comment about this?

A: There is a law on that, so there is something lacking in the way they reinforce the law. Second, it is a reflection on our society and the Church also. Those of us who are responsible for guiding, for teaching moral principles… beginning in the families and the schools. I think society is deteriorating in its moral life if pornography and prostitution come out. And they say it's also an economic problem… the poverty of the people is also one reason for the spread of pornography and prostitution. But not only that, abortion also, there are many others that are caused by poverty.

Q: Is abortion a problem in ?

A: People do not know it, but I know because… in the Church only the bishop can absolve sins of abortion in confession. So I give faculty for the priest to absolve and many (priests) are asking me for faculty, so it's getting rampant. And they tell me it's really the economic problem, poverty.

Q: Drug use in has increased through the years. Are there any plans of the archdiocese to address this problem?

A: Many of our schools have had seminars given by the narcotics group, and I am a member of the anti-drug addiction committee of the city, and I have gone through different schools and (parish-based groups), etc… But we cannot really eradicate the drug addiction issue; it is also a world wide big business. But again, our answer really is our spiritual principles. Drug is only an escape from problems of life, to numb your conscience and your feelings. But usually it's the poor people who get into drugs.

But here in the city… my conscience is always bothering me when I make my pastoral visit in the slum areas in the city… (and) on the outside you see the enclaves of millionaires, Ladislawa and all these things. The other night, I was talking here with a union leader. I said, "You know the reason why you have trouble with… (the) companies that you strike against is because they are engaged in unfair labor practice, because they do not want to lessen their profit. Because if they lessen their profit, it will affect their lifestyle. They are used to having all kinds of comforts." So, to me, you know, if people are really serious about being Christian, there would be no slum areas in the city. But that is the problem. We are being imprisoned by our needs and comforts.

Q: Is poverty still the number one social concern of the Church in ?

A: Number one… I went to the city jail here where everybody is legally innocent because their cases are still (being tried) in court, otherwise they would be in Muntinlupa or Dapecol (Davao Penal Colony, old name of Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Davao del Norte). You know, there are 700 inmates there. And there are people there who have been there for 20 years whose cases have not been resolved. Women and young people. So I spent a few hours there, and the warden told me, he said, "This is the most abandoned institution in the society of ." Seven hundred people You know, sometimes, my conscience bothers me, but it's good that it's still bothering me. I would be afraid when the time comes when I am no longer bothered by my conscience… I hope I will not make a mistake; that I can contribute a lot in the improvement of society and the Church. Now I'm the president of this so called powerful, influential CBCP…

Q: What are your plans? What will be your priorities come December when you take over the presidency of the CBCP?

A: Well, you know, I have been engaged in dialogue, in peace making for many, many years in , for 28 years. So that would be my approach to every situation: Dialogue. There are many warring factions and sectors, and I would like to ask people (to dialogue). It is the only human way to solve problems… all else will fail: Military solutions, killing people, even economic solutions, will not solve them. You know, you give the Muslims all the economic projects, they will accept them. But they will still not forget what you did to them. The wounds are still there. Only repentance and forgiveness (will bring healing).

And another plan I would like to have for the CBCP… you know, there are many of us who do not know one another. We are 120 and we meet only twice a year… so I would like to see to it that there is more sharing… so that we will know the needs of the other bishops. The CBCP is only strong when every bishop is strong in his diocese.

Q: What do you pray to God for at this time in your life?

A: I will quote to you a letter of St. Peter, chapter 5, verse 5-7. It says, "In your relationship with others, clothe yourselves with humility because God is stern with the arrogant, but gives His graces to the humble…put yourself under the mighty hand of God, cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you." That's what I pray for, to be humble and to put everything in the hands of God.


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