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Carlos Celdran's Damaso brings the fray to the frailes

October 3, 2010 8:34am

I must take my own bowler hat off to Carlos Celdran, who's bowled over everyone by dramatically putting a face and a word to a burning issue, thus effectively hastening the crumbling of an institution known to retreat from bunker to bunker as it desperately conducts rear-guard action in defending its often outmoded views — from geocentrism to homosexuality, or as youngsters say, whatever.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines believes it still retains a powerful influence because a great majority of Filipinos happen to be nominal Catholics. But the tokenism is more of a family tradition than a real, steadfast subscription to a faith that is nearly as busybody as its chief rival among religions.

Fortuitously for us, the Pinoy Simbahang Katoliko has hunkered down in defending its medieval mindset with regards birth control, without realizing that the times have far outstripped their official line, and that what they condemn is already a general practice among most Catholics, or at least those who can afford it.

PNoy faces a golden opportunity to move the country forward in more ways than one, simply by standing his ground on the informed choice issue. Unfortunately, shallow quarters of media have muddled it by equating Pnoy's stand — articulated in San Francisco as a reply to a Fil-Am's question at a public forum — with his presumed support for the RH bill. Not so. Those are two different issues, and two different, if serial, battlegrounds.

What PNoy affirmed was the public's right to have an informed choice with regards contraceptives. Even if this means that the government will continue to educate the public AND provide contraceptives to poor folks, that's still a stone's throw away from the debate on the RH bill.

But what the Church has awkwardly provoked is a national uproar over asinine statements from the usual suspects among its officialdom.

Carlos Celdran behind bars. Mariz Umali photo
First, Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP Commission on Family and Life, casts the wild speculation that PNoy only announced his stand in exchange for the grant moneys he received from the U.S. Quickly echoing this cynical appraisal is Archbishop Oscar Cruz, whose continuing slide to senility does not seem to affect his desire to get his daily 15 minutes of fame, or notoriety, through TV, radio and print.

The shared presumption is akin to that old-bogey proposition that nothing can ever be done by Philippine officials without CIA blessings or proddings. It is a cynical and unrealistic view, beholden to gullibility in the wake of watching too many Hollywood movies on the all-too-formidable powers of the CIA.

Fr. Castro was quoted as saying he was "certain that the U.S. government had a hand in Aquino’s abrupt decision to support population control." He obviously wasn't listening during the election campaign when Noynoy Aquino already made that same position known.

He claims that the President’s support for responsible parenthood is linked to the $434 million grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation for Philippine social welfare programs.

Well, I've got news for middling priests and laymen alike. The Millennium Fund had been approved even before PNoy came into power. Its release was withheld until after PGMA stepped down, so that presumably it could land in safer hands. Check out U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's friendship with one Loida Nicolas Lewis, who spearheaded the Fil-Ams' support for Noynoy Aquino.

Second, the Church suggests that PNoy should hark back to his own late mother's condemnation of abortion. But here is where a key hypothesis is banded about even as it skews dictionary definitions besides simple logic.

For Catolicos cerrados, contraceptives are abortifacients, never mind the clear instance of an oxymoronic equation that is easily gleaned from simple etymology. Contra-ception means you counter conception by avoiding or preventing it. An abortifacient kills a fertilized ovum. When the ovum is not fertilized, there is no killing.

So why are the terms being mixed up? Because there is real gnawing fear that if birth control is supported by government, what may follow next is the passage of the RH bill into law, and after that, there could be legalized abortion. And down the line, divorce will also eventually be legalized. In a few more years or decades, why, even euthanasia and prostitution could turn legal.

So the Pinoy Church has to hold the line now, even if they try to do it by grasping at straws, or shooting themselves in the foot, while that foot is in their mouth. So they pull out the bogeyman card. Thus, the third mistake: to threaten a still popular President with excommunication.

Now the demonizing tattler denies he ever issued a threat. But the public has been aroused over such reported bully-pulpit arrogance. Again, as Archbishop Cruz archly if typically pa-cutely warned, surely a fresh President who is reputedly fast gaining detractors cannot afford to open up a new battlefront.

Wrong. This time PNoy is assured of support. Why, even Rep. Edcel Lagman of the daily oppositionist soundbite now closes ranks with the President, who may actually be persuaded not to veto the RH bill. Why, even Sen. Miriam pleads against excommunication, throwing PNoy into the bargain.

Comes Carlos Celdran with his theatrical derring-do, and the lines are drawn. Online, the Pinoy Church is kaput. Even ageing conservatives will be hard put to join any Church-led civil disobedience, since the lay orgs (what a fitting term) may have to face up with RH activists in t-shirts screaming "DAMASO!" or the big dare words "Excommunicate Me!"

John Silva has stepped into the fray, in a typically big way. He demands that his excom rites be attended by pomp and circumlocution. Can Gang Badoy be far behind, rocking St. Peter's Rock? And if fair-skinned Risa Hontiveros wears a terno't-saya to pose as Maria Clara, why, that will drive the dagger home: that the pre-CIA Americans made a mistake in throwing out the wrong Castilaloys, since the friars got to stay and keep their tax-free realms. Didn't they know that the Revolucion was as much against the clergy as Madre España?

PNoy is in good hands. Fate, not faith, has decreed that he be saved from the bugaboo that was the bloodbath report. Even jueteng, Undersec. Puno, the Balay-Samar divide and all other gathering elements of what Joma in Utrecht may have perceived as blood on the water — thus the hard Left's spurt of militant protest action — have now been pushed aside because there looks to be a more dramatic showdown.

Thanks to hard-line ecclesiastics, a push has been given the birth control program and the RH bill. But what can we expect from religious head honchos that still count a Reverend Ted Bacani — with pictures showing him looking away (maybe sheepishly) from Celdran's Damaso poster?

In truth, yes, that Damaso stunt may have been a low blow. But times there are in the world's march through evolution, even of morals, when the medium must become the message.

The message we have been getting all these slow years, from spokesmen and the human faces of the Pinoy Church, is that they meddle as much as they want into our lives, our politics, our gaming instincts, our bedroom exercises, when all they can present to us are not gentlemen of the old school but stuntsmen like a running priest and all other publicity-hungry men of the cloth who only lack a circus tent to complete their fount of entertainment.

The thinking clergyman is not among the front ranks of the CBCP. He is the constitutional expert who dispenses legal wisdom through a newspaper column, the mathematician who has run a university as its longtime president, the Benedictine monks who safeguarded Ninoy Aquino's papers at the height of a putsch attempt.

Oh, there are many other priests among us who quietly conduct their calling, as gentle shepherds of devotion and not as barking sheep dogs that cover a lot of ground, and thus overreach well beyond the true vocation.

It was the circus masters that Carlos Celdran confronted with his own brand of ring-manship. He distilled the diametrics in one word — Damaso — which the youth will now take pains to learn about, and thus come away with a better understanding of our literature and our history.

Maybe the best thing that can come out of this fray with the frailes is that courses on Rizal can again be taught in school. For now PNoy is the direct beneficiary of the clergy's misreading of the times that are a-changing. Our President should stand fast, and by doing so lead his people to where they want to go, and that is to be the bosses of their own bodies. -- HS, GMANews.TV
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