Erle Frayne Argonza
A devout Catholic man hurried into the cathedral in his city one day to confess to his parish priest. He felt the irresistible urge to confess and be expiated of any guilt about what he saw in the parish convent one day, and so he had to let the priest be informed right away. Let’s listen to the dialogue:
Devotee: “Bless me Father for I have sinned.”
Priest: “Go ahead Son, tell me what’s bothering you.” The devotee was as white as ash, noted the priest.
Devotee: “Father, forgive me please, but for couples of occasions now, I’ve been peeping in the convent. I’ve been seeing you and your girlfriend having sex.”
Priest: “Oh My God! What things are you talking about?” The priest now turned furious.
Devotee: “I know you’ll feel outraged Father, that’s why I am confessing this sin to you. To be exact Father, your girlfriend is Sister Ngefati, the one from the Order….”
Priest: “Alright, you’ve really been committing this sin, really grave sin! Cut it!”
Devotee: “I’m really sorry Father. What will I do?”
Priest: “To expiate yourself, you must pray 1000 Our Fathers and 5000 Hail Mary’s right now!”… Whew, what a sinful Peeping Tom!…
Meantime, in another parish not far away from this one, a female devotee hurriedly went to the confessional to see her pastor. Almost forcibly barging through a long queue of sinners, without which the church won’t even exist, the lady finally reached her goal and plunged at once into the ridiculously looking wooden box for confession, kneeled and revealed her story. The story goes:
Devotee: “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” She was in tears as she began to reveal her inner feelings.
Priest: “Please go ahead, dear Daughter, and tell me what’s bothering you.” The lady was now sobbing in tears.
Devotee: “Father, as I was cleaning your office yesterday, I felt the irresistible urge to see what’s inside your working table. And I saw inside, in what looked like accounting reports, copies of your bank accounts. I found out that you have secret bank accounts, Father, and they total more than P100 Million in all.”
Priest: “For Christ’s sake, what have you done? What else did you see?”
Devotee: “I further saw that the accounts were spread out in three banks.” She then mentioned the names of the banks.
Priest: ….(Silence)….”Hmmm, pssst, it’s just between the two of us. I’ll give you 5% worth of commissions for all my accounts, and will also gift you with a new car as bonus. Please keep this secret to yourself.”… “Okey, please go to the altar area, pray 1 Our Father and 10 Hail Mary’s, and rest assured your sins are light and will be forgiven pronto.”
Now, come to think of it, there are many such narratives going on everyday of our lives. As I am writing this note, the Catholic clergy in Manila has already established its propensity for pinpointing other people’s sins, notably government officials’, whom the clergy has slandered in pulpits and in the media. Sometimes the other churches would sing along with the Catholic tunes, but often than not the Catholic Church acts like a solitary sinless dragon in search for earthly demons.
The question worth asking now is: who will pay for the sins of the Catholic priests, religious orders, and bishops, which for simplicity I will refer to as Church? What mechanisms are there to countercheck against abuses and crimes committed by the Church? One need only to immerse oneself for around six (6) months in any parish in the country to be able to pick up information about every kind of sin and crimes committed from the parish to the bishop’s palace. What say you when you get the facts?
So powerful is the Church in the Philippines and everywhere else that many church crimes remain unpunished. The Church is the biggest landlord in the country, its combined realty and financial assets being so vast no single private institution can match it. While many Catholic devotees shout every kind of invective against unjust landlords in the streets every day, and while many priests and nuns echo the same message against private landlords, nobody notices the landlordism of the Church except for a few daring writers.
Even among investigative journalists, who have established their mark as crusaders against corruption and criminality, one can never find a single document that exposes the extent of landlordism and untaxed assets of the Church. One gets the feeling that maybe there are vested interests elsewhere who may have provided the journalists the money to expose the anomalies and crimes of government officials in particular. But what vested interest will ever have the courage to expose Church crimes, and do so by providing the budgets for journalists who can conduct the research and publish the results for everyone to read? No such quarter exist till this day!
It’s almost like a mafia code of silence going on, declaring that “anybody but the Church.” This story goes through for the other major denominations in the country. Go ahead and search for any investigative report about crimes committed within the confines of each of the major denominations, and your effort will prove futile. The only crimes reported are those done by fringe groups of cults, some of whose leaders already landed behind bars for crimes of sexual molestation and rebellion.
The moment that any interest group would start making critical commentaries about any denomination or sect, the same group must prepare for the eventuality that it will be demonized in public as an agent of Satan. The fundamentalists are particularly the quickest to demonize and slander many interest groups, notably their competitors within the Christian community (Catholics, Methodists), whom they project as “persecutors of Christians.” And yet the same fundamentalists have openly supported military aggression against states that they perceive as agents of Satan, never mind the collateral damage that the war can bring to the said state or population.
And didn’t one notice the crimes committed by the leaders of the fundamentalists, such as the crimes of the televangelists? At least in America, there are instances when crimes done by churches witness some people paying for them, or be punished in the media at least. Many crimes of sexual harassment and misconduct already saw diocese units pay up for the crimes in cash, by indemnifying the victims concerned.
At least there are some noisy elements in America who dare to speak of the unspeakable, and expose church leaders and officials for their felonies and misconduct. In the Philippines and South America, the churches remain as all-powerful beings that nobody could question, let alone charge with criminal offense. No wonder that when caudillos get to power in South America, and when caudillo power turns to the authoritarian swing, the state hardly shows respect for church leaders and treats them casually like any other citizen who can be chastised, punished or brutally mistreated.
As I write this note, the conflicts among Sunni and Shiite Moslems in Western Asia have been turning to the worst of scenarios. In the name of Allah, each party in the conflict commits abominable crimes against the members of the other denomination. In which case, the element of ‘sin’ cannot even apply to the commission of crimes at all. Thousands are dying every day, and thousands more are being dislocated due to escalating conflicts and mass murders. Thousands are losing their jobs for various reasons, even as thousands of jobs are closing down as economic players are compelled to close shop due to high risks and damages wrought by daily rituals of violence and war-related criminality.
Religion is so great indeed that if one were to climb up the pyramid and become leader or patriarch, one will be offered the immense privilege to commit crimes and hide the offense by using theological rationalizations. Infinite are the privileges that go with the power immanent from high positions of hierarchy within the churches. The joke goes that for a Catholic man or gay, it would be best to become a priest because one can have many girls or boys for free without paying up for the cost of marriage and family life. Joke may this be, but it sums up the issue raised in this note: the criminal offenses and injustices committed by the churches.
Whether church crimes would determinately crack church legitimacy is another question altogether. For as long as the Earth is predominantly populated by evolutionary Laggards who cannot perceive spirituality outside of the church way, church legitimacy will go on for a long time yet. The secularism of modernity is now passing away, and before long the atheism of the West, particularly Europe, will swing to the other extreme: fascistic fundamentalism.
For how long will church legitimacy stand we cannot be certain. But as soon as the Earth’s population will swing to the ‘star child’ or ‘star seed’ variety, or will be predominantly of the Seeker type, the palatability of the church way will radically recede. There is now a greater likelihood that at the end of this century, the planet will be largely populated by Seekers. And so the hope is high that, when such a situation arises, church power will be counterchecked at last and the crimes committed by churches can go punished.
Meantime, while such a situation hasn’t come yet, we have to watch out for more church crimes committed each day, and a World War take place due to the Sunni-Shiite conflict. We are compelled by circumstances to declare “hear no evil, see no evil.” We may better focus on our own inner transformation and be unaffected by whatever crimes are happening around us. Let’s better ensure ourselves then of the positive results of such self-realization efforts.
[Writ 19 Nov. 2007, Quezon City, MetroManila.]