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The Catholic Church Doesn’t Get ‘Occupy’


The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines recently announced that it will have its own movement, purposefully echoing the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States. The movement, dubbed “Kilusang 99%,” was described by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo as a “social reform movement” about “making the poor the center of development and making the government accountable for the welfare of the majority.”

As if to preemptively deflect accusations of being against the Aquino administration due to their historic chumminess with the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (who is now facing accusations of electoral sabotage), Pabillo said that Kilusang 99% was not directed at President Noynoy Aquino or any particular leader. The movement has several demands outlined in a letter by Pabillo: agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain reform, and fisheries reform.

To be sure, a campaign advocating these demands is laudable (though it is definitely not encouraging that Pabillo himself calls the movement a “crusade”). Certainly, capitalism in this nation and in the world has been enjoyed on the backs of the working class who are coerced into unfair labor by the rich and powerful, comprised of less than 1% of the human population. And, in fairness to Pabillo, he seems particularly serious about pursuing economic reforms, especially with Hacienda Luisita. He even supported the Senate hearings investigating the corrupt “Pajero bishops” of his Church. However, what the Church itself doesn’t seem to get is why the Occupy Movement began in the first place. And, in branding its own movement with allusions to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, it presents in Kilusang 99% a farce almost too comical to believe.

What the Occupy Movement is

The Occupy Movement is not just a list of demands. In fact, one of the most common criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is that its demands are not clear or concrete. At its core, the Occupy Movement aims to shine a light on society and criticize what it has become. It aims to redraw the social contract and end the abuses of the wealthy upper class. The Church’s Kilusang 99% resembles this only superficially and misses the point of the Movement entirely.

The Church is not powerless; it is not poor or even for the interests of the poor—relief of earthly suffering (the only kind of suffering that is provably worthy of attention). That it seeks to be identified with the common man only emphasizes how out of touch the Church is as it grasps at any form of relevance in a world growing increasingly skeptical of its authority and its aims.

The Church is with the 1%

The richest 1% of the world have failed to understand that, in their pursuit of wealth and power, they have only done so at the expense of the working class who buy their products, who toil in their factories, who invest in their banks, who rent their land, who make loans they bet against, who purchase their medical insurance only to be denied treatment, who periodically bail them out when their system inevitably collapses. In their refusal to give back to the society from which they have enjoyed a disproportionate amount of spoils, they promote the fantasy that all that they reap is the result of the sweat of their brow. They blame their victims for their suffering while expecting them to continue on playing their rigged games.

In this way, the Church takes after the 1% more than it does the 99%. Like the 1% who perceive themselves as victims, the Church also lacks the self-awareness that would have deterred them from even attempting to represent the 99%. Like the wealthy bankers who gave themselves bonuses after the crash of the markets, the Church refuses to believe that it is they who are deserving of criticism and blame. Like the 1% who pervert democracy and buy their way into government, the unelected Church bullies our elected officials into legislating its dogma and forcing Filipinos to bend to their worldview. Like the 1% who hawk the delusion that hard work will always bring about wealth, the Church scams people into believing that suffering in this life is acceptable, even desirable, as a means to the afterlife. And, like the 1% who enjoy exemption from criminal prosecution, the Church is able to pursue an extrajudicial system to shuffle around its rapist employees and hide them away from the law.

The Roman Catholic Church is exactly the worst kind of organization to associate themselves with a movement dedicated to distributing power more equally. The Church fashions itself as the sole arbiter of morality and refuses to acknowledge even the remote possibility that it might be wrong in the things that it chooses to value. It focuses power into the hands of a few elderly men and peddles their opinions as those of God. It seeks to suppress dissent and criticism by vilifying their opposition as evil and not even human. It strives to deny rights to human beings by calling them unnatural and disordered.

Kilusang 99%: Anti-Authority Authoritarians?

The Occupy Movement is the cry of the common man against a system broken beyond repair. What the Church demands is that we all go back to listening to them, like we used to. The Occupy Movement is everything that the Church would like to be perceived as, but is not and can never be—a movement that calls for liberty and justice for all of humanity.

This is not to say that the Church’s motivations are malicious or purely self-serving. Far from it. I earnestly believe that, with Kilusang 99%, the Church aims only to help those truly in need. But, as even in its most well-intentioned of teachings, it is woefully misguided and fundamentally disconnected from reality. The Church doesn’t realize that it itself is part of the culture of the so-called 1%. It is exactly the kind of institution that requires demolition from the edifice of a truly free society.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement is an expression of anger and exasperation with the status quo. It decries the impunity enjoyed by those in power. It condemns the gaming of the system by the rich and their exploitation of the majority in order to fuel their narcissistic power plays. It laments the curtailment of liberty of the people in the name of economic progress for the few. The Occupy Movement is anti-authority—an ideology that can never be credibly advocated by any revealed religion, which are all based on arguments from authority. The Occupy Movement seeks to maximize liberty by providing for all the same opportunities to flourish and to determine their own direction in life, without interference from those in power. It takes an imbecilic lack of introspection to ever confuse the ideals of Occupy Movement, either in the United States, in the Philippines, or anywhere in the hundreds of cities currently in outrage against the powers that be, with that of the oppressive, conservative, and intolerant Roman Catholic Church.

Image Credit: Associated Press

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