Si Padre Damaso at Donya Consolacion

Date posted on October 8, 2010

I am, for the record, a Catholic. Having said that, there are many things that I criticize the church for despite my religious faith.

As a college student, I consistently missed attending the Sunday mass. I thought it was an incommodious and unfair barometer of one’s religious devotion. I used to justify my lack of commitment by saying, ‘I have a personal relationship with my God.’ As many street philosophers would argue, I thought it was pure hypocrisy to gauge one’s morality from his diligence in attending a weekly one-hour service. Not when real life is lived beyond the pews. What we do and how we are in the real world eclipses the relevance of the Sunday mass. (I must say though that later on, I realized that while it is right for all of us to have a ‘personal’ relationship with Him, I was erroneously invoking my flawed understanding of the celebration of mass as reason for my criticism of this custom. I have since reacquired the dedication to attend mass every week, finding nourishment in hearing the Gospel and renewed appreciation of the Homily now that I’m an adult.

I am also a huge critic of the Church allowing, or tolerating, Among Ed Panlilio’s run for Governorship of Pampanga. Like other events that pepper our history, it mocks the Constitution that explicitly imposes the separation of church and state but we are all complicit in contravening because of course, anything that has been sprayed with holy water is inherently correct, acceptable and redemptive. While I do not wish to question Among Ed’s competence as a government public servant, I still believe that he was not qualified. The fact that he has chosen to serve through the Church makes that issue moot. Contrary to what I’ve heard him proclaim in the past, being the governor of Pampanga is in fact a disservice to the Kapampangan, especially when it divergently contributes to the stunting of a people’s political and social maturity. Not when it further obscures the people’s understanding on why these political tenets are there in the first place.

Reproductive health is another issue in which I’ve always disagreed with the Church. I can understand their hard line-stance, and they are by all means entitled to it, but what I find unacceptable is how they use their influence on the government to hostage legislation and policies. I don’t even mind if they themselves took to the streets to express their opposition to the RH Bill. But knowing the authority they wield and using it to publicly declare ‘dismay’ over President Noynoy’s stance and saying that further promotion of contraceptives could result in possible excommunication is akin to a threat. By all means, allow the Church to have a dialogue with the government to discuss why they think some forms of contraception are abortifacient, but the Church should also know when to stop and allow the government to carry on with its job without undeserved intimidation.

Those are three among the many things I tend to disagree with the Church, but truth be told, I like the Catholic Church more than I hate many of its actions and dogmas.

I sorta like Carlos Celdran too. I think it is laudable that he literally ‘walks the talk’ and does something tangible in making his Fellow-pinos renew their appreciation for our country’s heritage and culture through his walking tours. Much as I champion the same values, I regrettably fall short of calling it an advocacy because unlike him, I never had the guts to actually do something about it. The significance of mounting something that personal but massively influential cannot be gainsaid, and I can only wish there were more people from his ranks who would palpably contribute to uplifting the collective sense of Filipino identity, beyond wearing Team Manila shirts brandished with the stars and the sun of the Filipino flag.

So yes, that Carlos Celdran does have some guts. That’s something even more people have come to realize after that last incident when he marched inside the Manila Cathedral to disrupt an ongoing mass. It certainly takes guts to flash that ‘Damaso’ sign and demand that the Church STOP from meddling in government affairs, something I myself have wanted to scream out of exasperation but was never brave enough to do.

But while I welcome the attention his stunt has brought to the issue and the airing of the sentiment that many Catholics have on the Church and RH, I think the manner by which he did it is inexcusable. The bottom line was he disturbed a religious observance. Regardless of my feelings against the Church, I would never appreciate being disturbed by inappropriate showboating at a sacred moment when I am expressing my faith. It is this kind of insensitivity that we likewise detest in religious extremism, yet many of us seem to be just fine with it when the display comes from someone who shares our own faith or opinion. However we relish our freedom of expression, we must remember that it is not absolute. Isn’t religion the ultimate form of expression? Lest you find reason to not acknowledge that, the Constitution even went as far as explicitly upholding ‘free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference.’

Perhaps it is because I grew up in more modern and pragmatic times that cultivated in me an ability or willingness to customize the beliefs taught by the Church and reconcile them with my own. This, I notice, is also characteristic of my peers – people from my generation who belong to similar socio-economic backgrounds, educated in similar educational institutions and exposed to similar culture and influences. We are indeed radical if compared to the conservatism of religious institutions and those who come before us, but we criticize, debate and oppose not out of antipathy to what our faith or chosen religion represents. I know it is almost sacrilegious to do so since to disagree is almost a contradiction to the very concept of religion, but we are not pasaway for the sake of being pasaway. I’d like to think that we simply learned to inquire, discern and reason for ourselves, and if any, it only firms the conviction and value of our faith even more.

What Carlos Celdran did should not be honored for bravery. It was grandstanding, the penchant for which I always hated our politicians and church leaders, and as Celdran now proves, even their critics. In many ways, he was simply being pasaway, what with that placard and Jose Rizal costume. Carlos Celdran has since apologized, saying, “I apologize for being rude. But it was necessary for me to be rude.” I support Carlos Celdran and agree that he should not be sorry for the message he delivered. But as with the Church, I take exception to his actions, that rumpus he made in the Manila Cathedral. I don’t think it was ‘necessary’ for him to be rude. And for that reason, I will not be wearing a ‘Damaso’ shirt. He should not, under any circumstance, be imprisoned for what he believes in, but he surely deserves going to jail for what he did.