The Long View: The interdiction of a witness

The Long View
The interdiction of a witness

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:01:00 03/24/2008

MANILA, Philippines – When Ricardo Cardinal Vidal was recently taken to task for showing partiality to the President, his critics were taken to task in turn. The whole thing has taken a regrettable emotional toll on the Cardinal and his defenders.

Due deference is owed the good Cardinal as the spiritual father of the Cebuanos. But whether president, prince of the church, or pauper, in matters that involve the public good, a democratic citizenry must put the lowest premium on respecting hierarchy. Respect the office, yes; respect the principles the office ought to represent most of all.

What must be paramount is for our spiritual shepherds to realize how they have been co-opted by political wolves.

The present administration handles the hierarchy in the same manner it handles congressmen. For this reason, anyone who objects to calling prelates “congressmen in cassocks” should lodge a complaint, not with those who say it, but with the Palace that made the comparison possible.

No other administration ever contemplated or needed a Religious Affairs Office; no other president needed a Dodi Limcaoco, a Nena Valdes, or those with a roving commission like Medy Poblador or Mike Defensor, to name just a few, to coordinate with the hierarchy the way the PLLO coordinates with congressmen. No previous president needed to dispense state funds to Catholic dioceses and charities by handing out envelopes or placing ads on Radio Veritas or involving the PCSO and other agencies in such a politically systematic fashion through the bishops.

Our prelates know their moral theology; they know how to receive patronage without sinning. In these poisonous times, these are acts, though, that serve to place the Church in disrepute.

When Cardinal Vidal met the President in Wack Wack Golf Course and discussed jobs, when he allowed Cerge Remonde to address his gathered clergy in a retreat, when he forbade the clergy from signing petitions, and when he and other prelates met officials in Malacañang, everyone needs to understand that from the point of view of the prelates concerned, what they did was licit.

But the hierarchy needs to understand how the public can view it as an illicit effort, at the very least, on the part of government, for such illicit behavior benefits the government politically. A political act of generosity always has a price, and it is a fine line that separates the naÏve from the saints. If you will deal with the devil, you had better have the strength of an archangel. And this is why the generosity of the President, and her politically-shrewd operators, serves to divide and confuses the public, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

It also sends the wrong signal to overzealous subordinates.

When Cardinal Vidal was criticized for supposedly issuing instructions to the clergy to deny the Mass to Jun Lozada, the Cardinal denied ever issuing such instructions. I believe him.

Undoubtedly no memorandum was ever signed – but then again no one ever said the instructions had been given in written form. He didn’t need to issue any instructions, because his past actions are as unambiguous as any human act can be. For when he allowed Remonde to address the assembled priests of the archdiocese, approved the handing out of a government-prepared primer on NBN-ZTE, forbade petitions and interceded for schoolteachers with the President, the clergy knew right there and then on which side their archbishop stood – and assumed they’d be expected to act accordingly.

No need for instructions, no need for prohibitions; once Cardinal Vidal showed partiality his priests took the cue: and as subordinates tend to do, probably with greater zeal than the Cardinal ever imagined. It wouldn’t surprise me if perhaps a priest or two, to salve his own conscience, maligned his Cardinal by whispering to angry nuns that they would not say Mass because the Cardinal said so – when he only implied and was never explicit about denying anyone the Mass. This is how our culture works: the boss winks, and everyone beneath him does the nudging.

Whether implied or explicit, the consequences of the Cardinal’s behavior were grave. For the display of archiepiscopal partiality essentially placed an Interdict (“a sentence barring a person, or esp. a place, from ecclesiastical functions and privilege”) on Lozada, a sanction of the Church almost at the level of an Excommunication.

And here lies the question at the heart of the criticisms against Cardinal Vidal: not even Marcos faced such ecclesiastical sanctions.

For this reason, it is fair to appeal to the Cardinal to confront the questions that have been raised, and not by means of an appeal to his authority. If no one can question the desire of the clergy to uphold the Mass as a sacrament, what needs to be questioned is whether there’s Christian justice in denying the Mass to anyone, knowing that denial represents the highest and most fearsome sanction in the power of the episcopacy. What is his discernment? Does he remain neutral? If not, why not?

Let the shepherd speak. Politicians allied with the President are not the Cebuano people. The clergy of Cebu is not the Catholic Church in Cebu. There were Cebuanos who wanted to hear Jun Lozada for themselves, to judge him, for good or ill. That some of Lozada’s supporters treated a heckler violently and discourteously is what should have provoked holy anger from the Cebuano clergy, united with their Cardinal-archbishop.

Cardinal Vidal knows full well that the CBCP has already declared NBN-ZTE, and everything else, to be a national concern. The people of Cebu deserve more than an insistence on the feudal belief that presidential sins of omission and commission are acceptable so long as patronage for the province keeps rolling in.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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