Juan L. Mercado

‘Slow suicide’

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A church “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” is preferable to a Church jittery about “going astray,” Pope Francis says in “The Joy of the Gospel” published Tuesday. Fear instead being locked within rules that make us “comfortable but harsh judges.”


The alternative is not pleasant, Francis warns in the 84-page letter Evangeli Gaudium. “We do not live better when we refuse to share” cushioned by our own comforts. “Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.”

The document “amounted to an official platform for the first non-European pontiff elected in 1,300 years,” the Guardian comments. Since Day One, Francis has set an example, adds CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey. He spurned the ornate Apostolic Palace, and lodged instead in a spartan Vatican guest house. And he suspended last month a German bishop who spent millions of euros on a luxurious residence.

In his first major letter, Francis urges power to be devolved away from the Vatican, BBC reports. He says the Church must get over an attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” The document suggests that major changes are on the way.

The papacy “should not be expected to offer a … complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world.” This month, the Vatican launched an unprecedented survey of the views of lay Catholics on modern family life and sexual ethics.

“When the ‘Yolanda’ typhoon crisis ebbs, Catholics here will be asked to give their views on 39 questions that Francis fielded earlier,” Iloilo’s Daily Guardian notes. “This survey of sexual ethics signals a groundbreaking change of emphasis.” Many Filipino Catholics passively murmur “amen” to counsel from the Vatican. Now, Francis prods them to speak up.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales was the first in the world to put the survey online. It urged members: Submit responses by Dec. 20. These will be given to bishops before they gather in Rome next September. They will meet for a synod to discuss the family, and conclusions will be stitched into the 2015 guidelines.

The responses are likely to confirm that the daily lives of Catholics are diverging dramatically from earlier norms. In the Philippines, there are the “KBLs”: Catholics who come to church three times in their lives: kasal or marriage, binyag or baptism, and libing or funeral.

A  Social Weather Stations survey in February 2013 found that weekly church attendance slumped from a high of 64 percent in July 1991 to a low of 37 percent in February 2013. “The data reflect a worldwide historical trend of secularization,” the Inquirer’s Randy David notes.

The theme of change permeates Francis’ letter, writes John Allen, who covers the Vatican. Go beyond the now-familiar flashes of homespun language. “The Church is not a tollhouse,” he says. “It is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.”


Focus instead on indicators of future direction. The Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect,” Francis stresses. “It is a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” And the “doors of the sacraments” must not be slammed for simply any reason. The language could have implications for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Does it also challenge refusing the Eucharist “to politicians or others who do not uphold Church teaching on some matters?”  Allen asks. (Like the Reproductive Health Law in the Philippines? Some Filipino bishops, for example, threatened excommunication for those who supported the RH Law. The bishops of Lipa and Bacolod twisted in the wind when their attempt to influence voters bombed.)

The document restates the Church’s opposition to abortion. But “it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations … especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty,” Francis adds. “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”

Bishops and pastors should listen not simply to those “who would tell what they would like to hear.” Use Canon Law to broaden pastoral dialogue. Francis cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation with liturgy and doctrine.” More pressing is the need to ensure that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages the present needs, especially of the poorest.

Decentralization is essential for a conversion of the papacy. “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.”  But “we have made little progress” on that front, Francis says with remarkable candor. That refers to feet-dragging within a change-resistant Curia…

National  bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” This would  reverse a 1998 Vatican ruling that only individual bishops, in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.

Ties with Islam have taken on great importance because more Muslim immigrants now reside in many traditionally Catholic countries. “We Christians should embrace Muslims with affection and respect,” Francis says, “in the same way that we ask to be respected in countries of Islamic tradition.”

Pope Francis focuses on economic inequality: “Today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills in the ‘new idolatry of money.’ I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” Did you hear that, Bong, Johnny, Jinggoy and Co.?



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