In tackling this issue, I am sure to be treading on dangerous and oftentimes misunderstood waters. As a Protestant, my views on the issues involving Catholic bishops can be easily taken in the wrong light by faithful Catholics. However, as a voting citizen of the Republic of the Philippines, this is an issue that affects almost everyone of us. Here we have an institution labeled to be the moral force of the country yet embroiled in issues that will put this moral angle in issue. In the first few days that this issue came out, a lot talk and speculations came into scene as the details were unfolding. A number of bishops were labeled as Pajero bishops for they were reported to have received funding to purchase car which was mistakenly labeled as Pajero. Pajero or not, the issue was about their use of public funds to but service-utility vehicles or SUV’s. Many were surprised that the clergy can actually make use of government money to buy things such as these.
This issue can easily be blown out of proportion and it indeed was. In the Roman Catholic side, there was a group of laymen that called for the resignation of PCSO Chief Juico over the mislabeling of these cars as Pajeros while on the other hand, the so-called freethinkers and the progressive parties preyed on the issue to point out that these bishops have lost their moral hand in other issues like the RH Bill. As my Pastor Yount said in an unrelated sermon before: “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” This indeed is how we must look into this case. On the side of the Roman Catholic laymen, even if the PCSO chair Juico mislabeled this cars as Pajeros instead of the real brand, there is still a probable cause for corruption. While the moral fiber of the bishops has been eroded a bit by these controversies, it is terribly unnecessary to co-relate this with the RH Bill issue and certainly this does not give them the license to disrespect the elderly bishops no matter how disrespectful their deeds are.
So, how does this affect me, a Protestant citizen of the Republic of the Philippines? Even as we have no priests of the same vow and vocation in my denomination, I do know a lot of things about the vows of the priests and their duties. One particular vow of priests is the vow of poverty. Though I do not see a biblical reference on why a clergyman must really be poor but I do know this alludes to the fact that the early apostles lived a simple life devoid of any earthly pleasures. This fact alone brings us to the notion that certainly this bishops in asking for a birthday gift did go contrary to the example that a clergy must follow. As far as my knowledge can bring me, it is all but prudent for a clergyman to receive gifts but never ask for one. Even so, there is still justification as to the fact that they may be poor being clergy or they need assistance in helping poor communities but as we open the books of several companies, we can see that dioceses do own cash-producing property and company stocks that amount to billions of pesos. Why ask government for funds if in your own pockets, you are overflowing with money? This certainly puts the purpose into doubt.
As have been mentioned before, there is also the contention of the separation of Church and State enshrined in our Constitution. While the bishops’ bickering on certain laws like the RH Bill can be justified by their so-called moral fiber in society as being unrelated to the separation clause, funding clergy is certainly another more valid concern. I remember in my Political Thought Class that this separation clause does not mean that clergy cannot run in political positions but just simply means that the State should not promote a specific religion or fund a religious organization for their promotion. This gives us already a grey area on the issue for there is an interpretation that clearly hinders the State from giving government funds to a Church. As much as some cars may have been used for charity work, this in itself is already can be a violation of the separation clause for an object funded by the government may have been used in promoting religious causes. I do not expect that these vehicles will just carry supplies but they carry the priests to locations to say Mass for example. That is one thing but it is aggravating if these cars were used for personal purposes of the bishops concerned. The issue opens up more questions and more doubts about the moral veracity of an age-old institution such as the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines.
I may be a Protestant, specifically a Baptist belonging to the Calvinist school of soteriological thought, but I do give an respect to the bishops and clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church. This issue may bring to question their moral veracity but I, as a Christian, am compeled to treat them with respect but this does not stop me to call on the authorities concerned to punish them and others involved for justice knows no boundaries, even if you are a high-ranking church official. This issue will shake the Roman Catholic institution but I believe they are there to last and so we must deal with them with respect. I just hope that this issue was not raised in order to be a smokescreen of other more pressing issues that need to be tackled. As responsible citizens, we must always be vigilant and actively pursuing what is good for the country.