This article was originally published in the author’s “Second Wind” column in the Philippine Star, on August 31, 2011. She was kind enough to let us repost it here.
It was 1966, a few weeks after Holy Week. My grandmother was dying of cancer. I decided to go to confession and communion. I was only 22 years old. So I went to church and headed for the confessional. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been eight months since my last confession. You did not do your Easter duty! How could you wait that long without going to confession? The old white priest shouted. I got up and left and never went to confession again. That was 45 years ago. That was when I began to lose my Catholic faith.
Nevertheless…It was 1974 and we were in Rome. We decided to go see the Pope in his auditorium. Our guide got us the cheapest tickets saying he could have us moved up once we got there. I saw him discreetly slip some money into one of the Swiss guards’ hands and we were allowed to move up. Then I still believed — or better yet, I did not question — the infallibility or the greatness of the Pope. I waited patiently studying the audience. Quite a few nuns and little children, tourists and pilgrims. We were told to hold up our rosaries for the Pope’s blessings. Someone behind me said that would increase the price of the rosary.
Then the Pope entered, carried in by Swiss guards. He sat on a gilt chair and was carried on the shoulders of men. The nuns began to scream and applaud. This jolted me. I expected some reverence. This was not a Mick Jagger (the rock star then, today Justin Beiber) concert. This was Pope Paul VI, one of the forgettable ones. I would have screamed that way if I saw Elvis Presley gyrate a meter in front of me. But, please, this is the Pope. The nuns, rapture written all over their faces, some of them with tears streaming down their cheeks, continued to scream. Viva il Papa. Viva Il Papa. The only thing that popped into my mind was a quote: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
They set the dais that bore the small Pope near the papal chair at the center of the stage. They helped the Pope out of his carried chair into his stage-center chair. He sat down and lifted his feet. They carried the dais off the stage but the Pope still had his feet sort of lifted in the air. Then a boy came with a red velvet cushion. He set in down at the Pope’s feet. The Pope put his feet down on the cushion. There on the right side, lower than the cushion — my faith crashed and broke into pieces. Jesus Christ, who to me the Pope represented, walked the desert sands either in sandals or barefoot. What is the point of the Pope wearing embroidered shoes and refusing to set down his feet on the red carpet? Why did he need a red cushion? To me, there was no point and it even bordered on — for lack of a better word — something almost sacrilegious.
But never mind. I returned to Manila, still went to Sunday Mass but I was going as a matter of form. I was not ready to admit it, but my heart was not with me. Only my body was at Mass. At some point I had to see one of the monsignors usually in the news now because I was trying to get my marriage annulled. All I remember is he asked for my consent to an appeal to annul the marriage for some apostolic reason. I cannot now remember what he said and it doesn’t matter. What matters is I did not get the annulment so as far as the church is concerned I am still married to my husband who has converted to another faith and married somebody else with my full consent.
Once again, never mind. I was confined in the hospital undergoing a major checkup because I was quite sick. My significant other then, who has since passed away, called to say he was sending over an ecclesiastical lawyer from Rome whom his associate had recommended. This lawyer had gotten her annulment done for her. Please see him, the significant other said, and tell me what you think. Having no other choice, I did see him. He arrived in the middle of the afternoon.
In short he offered to get me a Roman marriage annulment for US$15,000 or about P300,000. This was in 1977. That was a lot of money then. Would I spend that much to buy a church annulment? Thank you, I said, I will call you. I did not call him. That afternoon, watching his back disappear through my hospital room’s doors I wondered —what kind of a church sells its annulments? Whatever the answer, I don’t want to belong to it. It feels as corrupt as the government.
But I have been most respectful. I have relatives who belong to the Catholic Church, I did not tell them that I considered myself out of it. I still believe in a power greater than me. The entity I call God I think is a spirit who lives in me and with me, who keeps me company, fills my home with his presence. He has two rules. He tells me to love myself and to love others, to do good for them. And that’s the way I live.
Furthermore, I realized late in my life that the Catholic Church in the Philippines ordered Jose Rizal executed and never once apologized for it. I think they should apologize for their cruel misdeed. But they never have. Anyway, to me, all religions are man-made, a way for man to discipline himself without taking responsibility, actually an escape from responsibility. I think I am now, if I have to be anything at all, what other people call a freethinker. I think therefore I am and I take full responsibility for myself.
That’s who I am today.