All of a sudden the RH Bill is a signature away from becoming the RH Law. Recently, it’s been progressing so rapidly that you have to wonder: Why has it been stuck in legislation for so long?
There are several culprits, but three groups share most of the blame: bishops, legislators, and voters. Bishops, for bullying and lying to legislators; legislators, for allowing this theocratic meddling to happen; and voters, for electing both into positions of power. You read that right. Electing both. Because as I’ll explain, bishops are elected, too.
Obviously, there are no elections for Catholic bishops. The Roman Catholic Church is a theocracy, a dictatorship led by the Pope, an institution of the bishops, by the bishops, and for the bishops. Ordinary Catholics — the laity — have as much say in who they’re supposed to obey as in what they’re supposed to believe. That is, absolutely none.
But although there are no democratic elections in the usual sense, Catholics can still choose their bishops. If they wanted to, they could change their religious leaders any time they wanted. But first, they have to understand what it means to belong to their church.
The Catholic Church is a corporation. A multinational corporation with several branches called dioceses. Both legally and dogmatically, a bishop is the boss of his diocese. You don’t change your boss by incompetence or insubordination. And you don’t change your bishop by disobedience or dissent.
Because the Catholic Church is a monolithic corporation, changing the bishop because you disagree with him is as difficult as changing the Pope himself. If you work for a company that doesn’t allow you to change your boss, the only way to change your boss is to move to another company.
Many Catholics take for granted that they’re not forced to be Catholic. It may not have been the case a few centuries ago, but people can now choose their religion without fear of death or torture. So remaining Catholic is a decision, however consciously the choice is made.
Bishops aren’t elected, so choosing Catholicism implies choosing the Catholic bishops. When it comes to most religions, you can’t have one without the other. Still, there is freedom of religion. You could’ve chosen Islam (and its imams) or Buddhism (and its monks) or Judaism (and its rabbis) and so on. By choosing to be Catholic, you’ve essentially voted for Catholic bishops to represent you, regardless of how much — or how little — you agree with them.
A lot of pro-RH Catholics would object to this. What kind of RH advocate would want to be represented by bishops who routinely misinform and fear monger, even blaming natural calamities (Sendong, Habagat, Pablo) and human atrocities (school shootings) on the RH Bill?
They prefer to think they’re represented by progressive Catholic leaders, the silent pro-RH clergy who anonymously spammed text messages in support of RH, or the progressive theologians who say it’s OK to dissent because there’s freedom of conscience and, thus, freedom to dissent.
But there’s a reason the pro-RH clergy are silent: They could be fired by the Catholic Church, losing the little authority they have — not to mention their source of livelihood. And there’s a reason theologians are so relatively noisy: They can’t be fired by the Catholic Church — at least not directly — and they have no official authority whatsoever — at least not when it counts.
Think of it this way. A bishop is like an anti-RH congressman. Priests are members of his staff, and theologians are informal advisers and critics. The anti-RH congressman can have one or even several pro-RH staff (silent clergy). He can even surround himself with pro-RH advisers and critics (theologians).
But no matter how progressive the people around him are, only the congressman gets to cast and explain his vote on the RH Bill. And no matter how popular his staff or advisers are with his constituents, they won’t even be allowed to say a single word.
Religious organizations are essentially the same as political ones because both are ultimately after the same thing: numbers. If the CBCP has political clout, it’s because the Philippines is predominantly Catholic. In political terms, they have the most votes when the most recent religious elections were held.
Because our politicians don’t fully appreciate the principle of secularism, religious clout translates to political power. It’s no coincidence that our government panders to religious leaders in proportion to their religion’s numbers.
When the Pope and his closest bishops attend international human rights conventions, the world’s leaders listen to them for one reason, and it’s not the strength or validity of their arguments. It’s the fact that they represent 1.1 billion Catholics. And whether they like it or not, every Catholic, no matter how progressive, is counted.
I don’t know for sure, but I highly doubt that anyone in these conventions has refuted the Pope by asking him how many Catholics actually agree with him. The Vatican contingent has routinely weakened, delayed, and even blocked progressive developments on a global level. And every Catholic around the world shares the blame.
In the same way, every pro-RH Catholic shares the blame for the delay of the RH Bill, and inevitably, the difficulty of its implementation — not to mention all the other irrational, unscientific, and theocratic things the CBCP has the power to do.
We’ll have to wait for the coming elections to vote against anti-RH legislators, but Catholics can do something about their anti-RH bishops today. Choosing one’s religion has political ramifications, and it’s time more Catholics realize this.
When you belong to the Catholic Church, it’s not the pro-RH priests or progressive theologians you put in power. At the end of the day, it’s the bishops you vote for.