01 October 2010

Excommunicate Noynoy?

I have not quite made my mind up about who is more gullible: a Catholic Bishop who allowed himself into being suckered into answering a trick question that could potentially land him controversially on the front pages; or the press, for thinking an anachronistic tradition such as excommunication can still be salvaged as a story in the modern day.

Bishop Nereo Odchimar, President of the CBCP, was asked if President Noynoy could be excommunicated if he continued to push for the distribution of contraceptives and stand by his principle of informed choice on the issue of family planning. His reply was, “That is a possibility. We will exhaust all means to come to a point of confrontation.” Inulit pa... “Proximal possibility” daw

Realizing the sucker-ing, the Bishop felt disturbed enough to issue a statement to the press. He denied ever having threatened the President and said, instead, that the issue was to be approached “in the spirit of dialogue and not of confrontation.” Ewan ko lang kung may Amen pa at the end of the statement.

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, formerly of Lipa, was also interviewed over the radio and leaped to the side of Odchimar. “Gawâ-gawâ lang ng media ang issue and it is not true that Aquino will be excommunicated.”

Of course the Inquirer, whose article it was that catapulted the issue into the front page, felt impelled to publish the full transcript of Odchimar’s radio interview.

But to drag this back to the crux of the matter: excommunication. Hmm… Fancy word, particularly for those who slept through Religion classes…

A Catholic web site conveniently describes it for us as “exclusion from communion; the principal and severest censure.” It is supposed to be a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty that deprives a Christian “of participation in the most common blessings of an ecclesiastical society.” In short, somebody who is excommunicated is denied the Sacraments.

Pero hello naman

When was the last time Bishop Odchimar looked at the calendar? Did he get into Bill and Ted’s phone booth and got himself teleported into the Medieval Ages?

Even this Catholic web site we are using as reference has attempted to take the notion of excommunication into the twenty-first century! “…it is not so much to punish the culprit, as to bring him back to the path of righteousness.”

That was not necessarily the case in the Dark Ages. What few excepting bespectacled scholars in some dusty archives know is that excommunication used to be a potent weapon of the Church, particularly when it enjoyed hegemony in the Old World. In Europe early in the Middle Ages, excommunication used to be thought of as a spiritual death which, in many cases, eventually led to physical death.

The reason was simple: ignorant as people were in the Middle Ages, the Faithful lived in fear of the Church and were taught to treat those excommunicated as though they were no longer alive. As such, they were denied basic sustenance and social interaction with even their own families. Who would want to go on living under such circumstances?

The weapon – and indeed, excommunication was – lost its potency when those in the Church began to use it liberally rather than selectively. When England stood by Henry VIII, for instance, after the latter declared himself Head of the Church of England, the whole nation was excommunicated! How foolish was that?

The only consequence of the abuse of excommunication was that the people started to realize that they did not have to die physically if they were excommunicated, particularly if they were in the company of others who were consigned to the same fate. That was how the Protestant movement grew; but that is oversimplifying all over again.

So, to get back to the crux of the matter: did Bishop Odchimar really expect President Noynoy to cower in fear at the mention of excommunication? But this is the twenty-first century…

“Being the President of all, you must consider the position of the Catholic Church because we are approaching this issue from the moral aspect,” was Odchimar’s message to Noynoy. Precisely! That was thoughtful of him…

Noynoy is President of Catholics, of Muslims, of Aglipays, of those in the Iglesia ni Cristo and even those who have turned their backs on any sort of religion. At any rate, the separation of Church and State, that is a bread-and-butter of any self-respecting nation. I would like to think that we are one, for all our follies as a people…

Now, for the media to try to stir up a fight between the Church and government using an anachronistic notion such as excommunication, well that in my books is simply ridiculous. The whole to-do is really a non-issue. Those whose conscience dictates they follow Church teachings will stick to the rhythm method, inconvenient though to the libido that may be. And those not too prissy will – well – continue to trust in Trust…

The unspoken issue is that, as we develop as a nation, couples will want to have fewer children as they attempt to deal with the cost of opportunity lost. Does the Church, in fact, fear that it will have less and less influence on how couples plan their families? This scenario, in fact, has already happened in the West.

Applause for Noynoy for the way he has stood by his principle of informed choice. At the very least, he respects people to use their intelligence. That does not make him any less as a Catholic. It certainly makes him look so much better as a President!

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