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Devout and dishonest
Posted by Yel Cobile, IT Admin & Correspondent on January 17, 2015, 3:37 am

(Editorial by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3:37 AM | Saturday, 17 January 2015)

A day before Pope Francis arrived in the Philippines, detained businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles arrived in court for her continuing trial on plunder and other charges wearing a yellow shirt bearing his image. The alleged principal of the pork barrel scam was in high spirits, not least because the Pontiff was arriving the next day, which happens to be her birthday. “Nagkataon na birthday ko po bukas, kaya [I feel] talagang blessed yung birthday ko,” she said with absolutely no trace of irony.

How to explain the cognitive dissonance, except to point out that, when it comes to overt religiosity and true moral behavior in this country, it’s not just Napoles who appears to have learned to be one and the other at the same time—to compartmentalize one’s life, in effect, so that the strictures of one aspect do not necessarily intrude on the other? It’s easy to scoff at the woman’s display of piety as a transparent bid for the easing of public opprobrium against her, but it’s also entirely possible—and this is the scary part—that she is deep-down sincere in her belief that God and the Church remain by her side. According to the whistle-blowers, Napoles spent considerable amounts making donations to the Church, engaging in acts of charity and even housing a number of her close priest-friends in cozy quarters in an upscale part of the metropolis. All these, while she was supposedly engaged in the wholesale thievery of the people’s money.

If only in scale, how different is that from the typical arrangements in countless parishes and dioceses nationwide, where the rich and powerful—those who own the land and oppress the peasants working for them, those who hold the reins of government and skim off the treasury, those who use their influence to harass or intimidate critical voices in their midst, those with the leverage to do something about the unequal power structure but are either indifferent to or active enablers of it—invariably end up serving as the hermanos and hermanas mayores of the local church?

The cushy relations between the Church and its wealthy benefactors would peak during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In deference to the bishops she was close to and who could be counted on to defend her conduct in office, the then president, a devout churchgoer often photographed receiving communion, not only abandoned any attempt at pushing through a reproductive health program in the country but also rewarded her coterie of prelates with luxury vehicles and access to public charity funds.

If the highest official in the land could engage in such behavior without being called out for it by the country’s so-called moral elders, why not Napoles—or, for that matter, Sen. Bong Revilla? Remember how the Cavite lawmaker conscripted congregations from his province to launch a weepy public prayer brigade on the eve of his arrest for plunder and graft charges, which he ostentatiously topped off with a shirt bearing the message “The Lord is on my side”? Again, one may think that was all for show. But the thorny reality may be that Revilla et al. do believe that their good fortune to be able to rise to the heights of society and government, by means fair or foul, had the blessings of a God willing to look away from their sundry shortcuts, in exchange for generous offerings to His Church every Sunday.

Among contemporary popes, Francis has gone the farthest, in the short time he has been on Peter’s chair, to try to wrench the Church from its corrupt cohabitation with the powers-that-be and return it to its original mission as a haven for the poor and powerless. He has denounced the exploitative nature of “trickle-down” economics, excommunicated the Mafia for its crimes (has the local Church excommunicated any plunderer or human rights violator?), and, in the Philippines as elsewhere, has called attention to the plight of those desperately in need. “If you take away the poor from the gospel, you cannot understand the whole message of Jesus Christ,” he said yesterday at Manila Cathedral.

The Church and government hierarchy present at that Mass would doubtless have nodded their heads in pious agreement at the Pope’s admonition. The proof of the pudding, of course, is in his leaving—that is, when he is gone, and his forceful reminders are but yesterday’s headlines. You can bet that many among us would be back in the same mold again—devout in prayer, but dishonest where it truly counts.

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