[Pinoy voices] The sins of the fathers

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[Pinoy voices] The sins of the fathers

The recent sensational revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic hierarchy would not surprise those with a passing familiarity with Philippine colonial history. An early 20th-century report by James Alfred LeRoy in the Academy of Political Science’s journal provided a litany of excesses, economic and political in nature, culminating in the charge that the Spanish friars “in general encourage[d] stagnation rather than progress.” By way of explaining such behavior, the author remarked that the majority of religious order members “seem[ed], from their appearance, manners and personal habits, to have been recruited from certainly not the best classes of Spain.”

It would be possible to tease out certain strands to explain both the character of religious officials posted to distant colonies as well as the antipathy of the American observers who provided such condemnatory remarks. To begin with, it would have been next to impossible to persuade the most promising administrators, religious or otherwise, to accept an assignment to a destination that would have taken months of travel to reach and from which a return to Spain, the colonial center, might never materialize. One extreme allegation was that out of desperation, some of the orders would seek potential recruits from the ranks of convicts and use their “conversion” as a means of petitioning for their release and subsequent deployment to Las Islas Filipinas.

I would not wish to cast the first stone in maintaining that genuine repentance cannot occur in real life, even outside the pale of the then-raging European Enlightenment. But the actions of many such “shepherds of the flock” became wolf-like once they reached their Oriental destination. The first recorded account of a Philippine lynching, for instance, involved a mob of Spanish friars fatally assaulting their very own Governor General, a reformist administrator who had ordered investigations into and the arrest of corrupt government officials and their religious defenders.

And as in public comportment, so in private: the climax of one of the narrative threads in Jose Rizal’s 1887 roman à clef, “Noli Me Tangere,” consisted of the revelation that the heroine, Maria Clara, had been sired by the hero’s mortal enemy, Father Damaso, and believing that her true love had been killed as a falsely accused subversive, Maria Clara insists on entering the nunnery, only to lose her honor (and her sanity) to the eager clutches of her secret admirer, Father Salvi. Thus Maria was inadvertently bequeathed by one friar, via a native uterus, to another.

The upshot of such commonknowledge instances of devilry among the country’s “Holy Joe” imports is that even today, when someone with distinct European features is seen in a poor rural area, people simply shrug and say that a “Padre Damaso” (code for a lascivious foreign priest) must have been a distant ancestor.

Such historical material can, at best, only serve as a backdrop for the current burgeoning tales about clerical scandals, which have so far been confined to the First World. That they involve this particular Catholic pope, at this particular historical moment, when in fact these stories flourish any time and any where when patriarchy predominates (not just at the present and not just in Christendom), indicates interests that had been at play even during the time when Spanish rule, epitomized by friar power, was being demonized in the Philippines: then as now, it was the Americans, the emergent empire-builders, who took the lead in announcing the abuses of the Church — so just as we may be grateful for the exposure of previously suppressed information, we might also do well to wonder who stands to benefit from such exposes in the end.

Joseph Ratzinger’s insistence on ideals that had been bypassed by several centuries of liberalization efforts (the last occurring as recently as the 1960s during the Second Vatican Council) has led to the queasy quagmire that his dispensation finds itself in.

The fact that priests all over the Western world believed they could get away with the rape and torture of minors is consistent with, not counter to, the position that women have no right to their own bodies and much less the priesthood, that gay people have no right to happiness, that men of the cloth have no right to seek proper carnal gratification, that humans (poor ones especially) have no right to reproductive health and that all other faiths ought to make way for the “one true” church, complete with god’s original (though long-dormant) language, Latin.

Emblematic of the darkest possible humor, were it not a real-life situation, is that dozens of deaf children attempted for decades to communicate their experience of abuse at the hands of a (now-dead) American priest who successfully petitioned for leniency from the future pope.

One more image, drawn from pedophile literature, would be that of hawks preying on unsuspecting chickens. Once more, hard as it may seem, one must first attempt to withhold judgment; so yes, great literature has reflected such desire (think “Lolita,” or “Death in Venice” or even the happily-ever-after “Alice in Wonderland”), and a number of successful long-term relationships may have started from such distressing origins, if we were to accept some child-bride narratives at face value.

However, as the admittedly atheist columnist Christopher Hitchens pointed out, the very people who represent an institution that upholds the most stringent moral standards (to an extent where most of these have in fact already been rendered obsolete by modern history) ought themselves to conform to the most basic requisites of human decency, starting with the injunction to visit no harm on the innocent and helpless.

In this situation, one might hope, pray even, that Ratzinger and his minions could make the leap, resistant though they may seem to be, straight into the second millennium A.D.

Koreans may be relatively blessed in that during their darkest period, the previous century’s Japanese occupation, Western missionaries atypically encouraged anti-colonial responses.

Farther south, with all the major candidates in the forthcoming Philippine presidential elections clamoring against reproductive health and still-unavailable divorce at the snap of the Catholic hierarchy’s finger, one begins to wonder just where our country’s real seat of power lies: Washington, D.C. or Vatican City?

*The author is Associate Professor at Inha University and a member of the Phil- RPG.

By Joel David
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