WHY is the Church silent? Why is the Church not doing enough? What is the Church really doing? These are some of the questions that are often asked as the number of killings perpetrated by the police and death squads continues to rise and in the face of authoritarian rule.
Those who ask these questions often do not have a clearly idea of who they are really referring to when they talk about the Church. Nor are they fully aware what individuals and groups within the Church have been doing as a response to the violation of human rights, the extrajudicial killings, and the drug problem.
Whenever we talk about the Church we often refer to the Roman Catholic Church made up not only of the clergy and religious but also the lay members who make up the majority.
The ordained ministers—the bishops and priests—provide leadership, and they are expected to speak and act in the name of the Church. The laity are called to actively participate in the life and mission of the Church. However, the Church is not a monolithic organization or community and cannot be expected to act and speak as one, especially when it comes to complex political and social issues. In questions regarding faith and morals, the voice of the hierarchy becomes authoritative (e.g. the statements from CBCP). There are also bodies like the AMRSP that can speak as one in the name of the religious congregations and orders they represent. There are also groups of lay faithful like the Council of the Laity or Laiko that represent various lay organizations and movements within the Church. The Church is made up of dioceses and every diocese is made up parishes and every parish is a communion of communities or Basic Ecclesial Communities.
Has the Church been really silent? While the Church as a whole cannot be expected to speak and act as one, there have been elements, groups, and individuals within the Church that have fulfilled their prophetic and servant mission and have risked their lives in doing so.
Even before the elections, some bishops and priests already warned the faithful about electing candidates with records of corruption and human rights violations and those associated with death squads. This was reflected in the pastoral letters of the CBCP and some individual bishops. While they did not refer to him by name it was obvious who they were talking about. A report on the EJKs perpetrated by the DDS and inspired by the mayor was circulated which warned that what happened in Davao could be multiplied many times over in the Philippines.
Since the beginning of the Duterte administration, in spite of the threats made by the president to expose the sins of the clergy, the CBCP came out with three pastoral letters denouncing the EJKs – the first one in September 2016, the second one in February 2017 which was read in churches all over the Philippines. The latest one in September 2017, which was the strongest so far, called for the tolling of the De Profundis bells in churches all over the Philippines to pray for the victims of EJKs. Individual bishops have also came out with their own pastoral letters, including Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Bishop Ronnie Bancud, and the bishops of Negros. The most vocal is Bishop David whose diocese in Kalookan has the most number of EJKs.
The AMRSP also came out with statements condemning EJKs, so have individual religious congregations like the Jesuits, Redemptorists, Marists. The Council of the Laity also denounced the killings. Many priests have also denounced the killings and preached about the value of life.
Priests, nuns, seminarians are helping organize and participate in protests and prayer rallies against EJKs and capital punishment.
Besides denouncing the killings, Church people are helping the victims of EJK through funeral assistance, financial/economic support for families of victims and psycho-spiritual counseling and debriefing. To address the drug problem, community-based rehab programs have been set up at the parish and BEC levels and even at the diocesan level. The Diocese of Cubao has pledged to provide scholarships for the children of EJK victims. The social action centers continue to come up with livelihood projects to address the problem of poverty. There are also members of the clergy and religious communities that provide sanctuary to witnesses. Some work with the CHR and human rights groups to hold perpetrators accountable. Others are involved in monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations.
The tolling of the bells in the churches is a symbol that the Church refuses to be silent, that she acts as the conscience of society and mourns the victims of state violence. The lighting of the candles is a symbol of the Church that provides hope during this dark period of our history.
What is needed is the greater involvement of the clergy, religious, and lay faithful in promoting the culture of life amidst the culture of death.