Sex, money and the Catholic Church

Misconduct involving sex and money is always hot material for media everywhere; more so when it involves persons of power and moral influence.  That is why politicians and priests are particularly favored subjects of reportage on sleaze.  It is not right to assume that the media attention is necessarily “politically-motivated” or “wellorchestrated”.   Nor should it always amount to a “conspiracy” against an institution.  Wherever lurks a contradiction between behavior and an assumed moral ideal, media cannot be so far behind.

Those who make the laws are expected to be the most law-abiding. And those who preach restraint and sublimity are naturally looked upon as exemplars of nobility.  Justice is distributive: the moral failings of ordinary mortals do not excite the public as much as the weaknesses of their moral and political mentors.  There is thus an instant, and sometimes malicious, delight in the modern demystification of power and holiness.

That is why Senator Ramon Revilla’s daughter, Princess, is in the news for beating up her two maids.  That is why basketball celebrity, Robert Jaworski, is in trouble for making careless and insensitive utterances as Allan Caidic lay in pain on the floor.  It is why Fr. Jojo Maximiano cannot shake off the media after he was reported as having been arrested for having sex with a woman inside a parked vehicle.   And finally, it is also why Cardinal Sin finds himself uncomfortably in the public eye, as head of the Archdiocese of Manila, the former owner of Monte de Piedad.  Senator Juan Flavier wants him investigated for his supposed involvement in the financial problems that recently brought down the bank.

But just as the reported cruelty of Senator Revilla’s daughter does not necessarily diminish our respect for the law, nor the perceived insensitivity of Jaworski our love for basketball, so too the reportage on Fr. Jojo and the good Cardinal need not represent a de-legitimation of either the Catholic Church or of religion.  Of course, the attitude of today’s media is a far cry from the days when the public would stand in absolute awe of their political and moral superiors even as they routinely flout the standards of public decency.

But I should think it is a move in the right direction when we can step back from our institutions, and be able to distinguish between the concepts they embody and the practice of those who presently lead them.   There is after all nothing new in priests having sexual liaisons or engaging in the mundane pursuit of money and property.  These were among the most common recollections of the impact of the Spanish friars upon our communities.  Only the fear of the divine that we associate with worship prevented us at that time from making a big issue of such examples of priestly surrender to human desire.

Today, secularization has indeed made the Church and the clergy more vulnerable to public scrutiny.  But it has also allowed the faithful to deepen their faith, to divorce religiosity from mere habit, to re-invent the Church as a valuable human institution in an evolving society, and, I hope, to accept  priests as fellow human beings.

Some people lose their faith certainly, as the result of an honest questioning of its fundamental assumptions.  But not always the inner life, or what Nietzsche – that arch-critic of Christianity – called “the inner world of sublime, tender, intuitive, deeply contrite, blissfully hopeful moods (which) was begotten in man primarily through worship.”

Government officials and the media have every right to look into the possible culpability of Church people in the collapse of Monte de Piedad.  But, I am skeptical of the effectiveness and investigative value of another Senate inquiry into yet another scam.  Often such investigations acquire the accusatory tone of an inquisition whose principal effect is the humiliation of people than the gathering of lessons for making better laws.   It  might perhaps be better to create a special commission that would conduct a quiet inquiry into the operation of the banking system for the purpose of preventing the recurrence of abusive practices that are harmful to the public interest.

And what of the sexual behavior of the clergy?   I would think this is a matter completely internal to the Catholic Church, and that ought to be treated as such by media except where some harm has been inflicted upon another human being.  I am not aware that there has been a complainant in Fr. Jojo’s case, even assuming that the event which supposedly prompted the police to go after him is true.  Why can’t we leave the man alone?

In Jullie Yap Daza’s TV program the other night, she had as guests children of ex-priests.  Jullie asked them if they had ever felt any discomfort at being known as the offspring of priests.  I was very happy to hear from the kids themselves that their lives have been anything but abnormal.  But why shouldn’t they be?  And perhaps, more importantly, why should we, the public, expect them and their parents to be other than normal?

We want priests to take their place in a modern secular society.  We must begin by unlearning those unrealistic expectations in which we, like the Church in Rome, continue to imprison them.


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