Pastoral Moral Guidance on the ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL – CBCP Document

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland
[Full text of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President’s Pastoral Moral Guidance, sent to Catholic in Asia March 3, 2015.]

Congress of the Philippines is poised to pass into law that was earlier known as the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bill, which is now more generally referred to as the anti-discrimination bill.  We are grateful that the CBCP was earlier asked by the relevant committees of the houses of Congress to submit its comments, and we did so.  But now, we deem it opportune to express ourselves collectively on the matter.

Non-Discrimination is a Christian Imperative

If discrimination means that certain individuals, because of sexual orientation or gender identity, are systematically denied fundamental human rights, then any measure that counters discrimination of this kind is a gesture of charity, one that reaches out to all and recognizes them in their inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God, called to new life in Jesus Christ.

This then is also the propitious time for us to call on all pastors throughout the country to be as solicitous of the pastoral welfare of all our brothers and sisters regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Their exclusion from the life of the Church, their treatment as outcasts, their relegation to the category of inferior members of the Church worthy only of derision and scorn certainly does not conform to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as the sacrament of Divine mercy and compassion.

In this regard, the Church has much to contribute towards the education of Catholics to be more accepting of others and to see through appearances the Lord present in each brother and sister.  There can therefore be no more approval of parents who imbue in their children the loathing and disgust for persons with a different sexual orientation or with gender identity issues.  In Catholic institutions, there should be zero-tolerance for the bullying and badgering of persons in such personal situations.

Christian Anthropology and Consequences for Pastoral Care

The Church remains firm in its teaching however that reason discerns in the process of human evolution, the perpetuation of humankind, and the complementarity of the sexes, as well as from the very nature of sexuality itself that God’s image and likeness is found in either man or woman.  The Church therefore compassionately reaches out to persons with orientation and gender identity issues so that they may clearly discern, with a well-formed conscience, and in the light of the Divine plan for humankind, how they ought to live their lives.

In this regard, a common fallacy has to be contested.  Today, it is not uncommon to hear the assertion that the way a person chooses to live his or her life and with which gender to identify is purely a matter of personal sovereignty and choice.  Much is left to choice, but much is also a matter of human given-ness, a matter of human facticity.  From the perspective of Divine Revelation, much is not of the person’s doing but must be counted as God’s gift.  Among these are sexuality and gender. 

While contemporary psychology and psychiatry are far from unanimous on the causes of orientation and identity issues, it is as clear that the individual is not helpless in this regard. There are decisions a person can and must make.  There are mind-sets a person must either acquire or discard. 

On the basis of its understanding of the human condition, the Church cannot encourage persons to “choose” their gender, orientation, and sexual identity as if these were matters at the free disposal of choice.  The Church therefore looks to mature parents, school counselors, community workers, professional psychologists and personality experts, as well as to her own priests engaged in pastoral counseling, to help in the resolution of what, it must be admitted, are very difficult personal issues, always with understanding, compassion, acceptance of the inherent worth of the human person and attentiveness to what has been revealed to us about the human person.

We must also insist on the distinction between “orientation” and overt acts.  No one may be excluded from the life of the Church and its sacraments merely because of avowed orientation or identity.  However, the disapproval of homosexual acts remains part of the Church’s moral teaching, a consequence in fact of its understanding of human dignity.  If “gay rights” movements, for instance, encourage free and unbridled sexual relations between persons of the same sex, the Church cannot lend its support, for in its view, they ultimately do a disservice to our brothers and sisters.  What gay rights can legitimately champion is justice for all, fairness that must extend to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Proposed Law

Before anything else, CBCP must ask whether or not the proposed non-discrimination bill is itself a manifestation of that pernicious form of colonization to which Pope Francis referred in his recent visit to the Philippines.  Is this the “importation” into our country of values, behavioral norms and attitudes that the West has championed and peddled?

To the legislators who consider through future legislative initiatives giving legal recognition to same sex unions, the Church declares there is no equivalence or even any remote analogy whatsoever between marriage between a man and woman as planned by God and the so-called same sex unions.

Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure.

However, there are certain matters that the Church considers to be within its exclusive sphere of competence such as determining who should be admitted to priestly or religious formation, who should be ordained and received into Holy Order, or who should be professed as members of religious communities and orders.  The Church asserts its exclusive right to determine its own criteria and to exclude even on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity if it finds these to be hindrances to the fidelity that is expected of ordained or consecrated persons.  We believe that the Constitution of the Republic guarantees this under the “free exercise” clause of the fundamental law of the land.

In respect to Catholic schools and the guidance and counseling that it extends to its students, the CBCP herewith expresses its position that our Catholic schools remain at liberty to determine their own admission and retention policies on the basis of the manner in which the Supreme Court of the Philippines has developed the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom.  We must however reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is.  Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself.  Through honest dialogue and pastoral accompaniment, it should be our goal to assist them to respond to the demands of chastity and that purity of body and heart that Jesus, in the Gospels, calls ‘blessed’.  When they wish to make an offering to the life of the Church according to their talents, abilities and gifts, the Church as mother provides for them.

Conclusion

We foresee that CBCP will be reproved for not going “all out” in its approval of homosexual and transsexual orientation and identity.  But we pray that all will understand that the deposit of faith is not owed to us, nor is it something we are free to modify or tailor to suit fad and fancy.

We conclude by reiterating our position that your bishops and priests welcome all of God’s sons and daughters, that there is room in the Church for all, whatever our personal conditions, gifts as well as burdens might be, and the Church will be tireless in extending its support and care for those in the midst of personal conflict who must make crucial decisions for themselves in the light of the new life Christ offers us all!

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, March 3, 2015

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

 President, CBCP

 

Will Pope Francis’ visits awaken the Asian Church? – Commentary

By: Hector Welgampola

Within the first 22 months of his papacy, Pope Francis has gone on pilgrimage to the Churches in three Asian countries: South Korea, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. As part of a fast awakening vast continent, these countries represent three religio-cultural streams and three varied socio-political realities.

Over recent months, and especially since his return form Colombo and Manila, the Holy Father’s words and actions have evidenced the impact of such exposure to vignettes of Asia’s rich plurality. More than any of the three predecessors who went on pilgrimage to Churches worldwide, Pope Francis keeps recapping and interpreting such pastoral experiences. Just as Saint John wrote the Apocalypse to the Churches in Asia, Pope Francis is using the Asian revelation to enunciate his Francisocalypse.

While enhancing the catholicity of papal teaching with Assisian aura, his spontaneity and off-the-cuff theologizing continue to endear him today to a broader church beyond traditional borders. No wonder, while on pilgrimage, often he went beyond limits set by tour planners as much as he ignored the drafts of papal speechwriters. More important than scheduled speeches were hisfrom-the-heart interventions. Far more significant than diplomacy-imposed hobnobbing with politicians and fraternizing with prelates were his Jesus-like skirmishes “into the multitude.” Quite unsurprisingly, they all jived together as a passionate pastoral embrace of the needy and the suffering.

Pope Francis korea

He first visited Asia to attend the 6th Asian Youth Day in Daejeon, South Korea. And while there, he brought alive the theology of Eucharistic sharing and solidarity by grieving with Koreans mourning youths killed in the 2014 ferry disaster.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, he travelled to Madhu Marian Shrine on the Northern border to pray with and console survivors and mourners deeply affected by the country’s 30-year ethnic war. On the Philippine pilgrimage, the Holy Father braved very stormy weather to visit and embrace Tacloban residents grieving the impact of Typhoon Yolanda. His outreach of pastoral presence radiated Jesus.

Papal Visit pope with Anak children press release

Contributed photo of Pope Francis with street children at Anak-TNK center.

Such intimate encounters and empathy with the suffering and afflicted endure in people’s memory as a fatherly outreach. Their healing impact may even wipe out bad memories of papal galas or exorcising handshakes with corrupt politicians. And it was encouraging to read that Asian Church leaders have learned from the example set by the Holy Father.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias,of Mumbai led the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences in Vietnam Dec. 2012, NJ Viehland Photos

According to a media report, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias has admitted that the papal visits to Asia have given a big boost to the “self-confidence” of the Asian Church. The cardinal, president of the Asian bishops’ federation, has said that the pope’s example will encourage the Asian Church to take forward the mission to the poor. Such enthusiasm rekindles hope of a renewed outreach to people harried by multiple forms of poverty and deprivation.

HFSB, Sorsogon,contributed

Sri Lankan Sr. Bernie De Silva, HFSB, leads seminar for fishermen in Sorsogon [contributed photo, HFSB]

In fact, just like Pope Francis’ own home Church in Latin America, the Asian Church used to be a pioneer in social apostolate and outreach to the poor, a few decades ago. Committed social apostles such as Japanese Cardinal Fumio Hamao, Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Filipino Bishops Julio Labayen and Francisco Claver and Japanese Sister Filo Hirota were among stalwarts of the Asian bishops’ Office of Human Development (OHD). A few still survive in ecclesiastical backwoods. Although that office is struggling for survival today, hopefully, the grace of papal visits may herald a new springtime!

May the pope’s Gospel witness be a new Revelation even to latter-day Church leaders dismissive of pro-poor movements such as OHD and shift focus from regional commitment by withdrawing into juridical ghettos. The lived witness of the pope’s Asian pilgrimages is further affirmed by his Lenten message 2015, which urges Christians to overcome the scandal of globalized indifference. Time to live that message!

END

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

 

Commentary: The courage of Sri Lanka’s first saint challenges today’s Church

Joseph Vaz devotion card

     The courage of Sri Lanka’s first saint challenges today’s Church

The  eyes of the faithful saw the saint in Joseph Vaz during his lifetime. But he had to wait 303 years after death for official acclaim of his sanctity. And now, will his canonization just niche him away on church walls or inspire emulation of his pastoral courage?

For many years, Church historians, pious groups in Goa and Sri Lanka’s Joseph Vaz National Secretariat kept the Vaz saga of sanctity alive. As secretariat chair and ordinary of Vaz’ final resting place, Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy harnessed people’s enthusiasm for the Vaz cause. Soon after Vaz was beatified in 1995, nine Lankan dioceses built 23 churches/chapels in his honor. At some 10 venues, devotees hold public prayer to seek his intercession.

Even before official approval of public veneration for the country’s first saint, in 1983 Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando of Colombo pioneered a project to focus laity attention on a vital aspect of Vaz’ ministry. He founded Joseph Vaz Deva Dharma Niketanaya to teach theology in the Sinhala language. Now affiliated to Rome’s Urban University, the theologate has campuses in three other dioceses as well.

Up until now, this network has helped train catechists and lay cadres for apostolates. Hopefully, the Jan. 14 canonization should enthuse these campuses to take a lead in deeper study and wider sharing of hitherto unexplored lessons of the Vaz mission methods.

The life and mission of Sri Lanka’s first saint was uniquely heroic and prophetic in many ways. His own priestly zeal led him there in 1687 to serve Catholics abandoned by Portuguese colonizers and their clergy. After the Apostles of Jesus, he is the first known Asian missioner to have evangelized an Asian country. And he did it with the help of a few fellow-Indian priests. That is why Pope John Paul II named him the greatest missioner in Asia since Francis Xavier.

From the ruins of a Lusitanized Church deserted by the Portuguese, the Brahmin priest began to build a truly native Church. After studying the local language and culture, his pastoral team introduced indigenized para-liturgies to meet people’s spiritual needs. He set apart teams of writers to provide Catholic literature in Sinhala and Tamil. Though he led a minuscule religious community, Father Vaz intervened for the public good when floods and plagues hit the country. If the essence of his pastoral style became a guide to later European missioners to Lanka, it froze in a cultural winter. His vibrant witness to interreligious harmony and interethnic amity ended up fossilized.

Three centuries after Father Vaz’ death, the better method of celebrating his canonization would be to discern his message for today, not to blindly mimic his pastoral methods. Just as he set apart personnel for contextual apostolates such as writing and healing, will today’s Church prioritize current apostolic needs and pastoral challenges?

More importantly, will the example of his personal holiness and commitment challenge Catholics and their pastors to holiness of prophetic witness, the essence of our Christian faith? Just the way the Vaz team ministered to smallpox victims, there is a need for pastoral teams to speak up for victims of today’s bigger-pox: injustice, oppression and corruption.

Some Sri Lankan dioceses are so blessed with a glut of priests that seniors may opt to make way for younger clergy. In such a scenario, let volunteers go on Vaz-style mission to needy regions and apostolates.

Maybe, the new Asian theological institute to be blessed by Pope Francis in Negombo could be the nucleus for an Asian program of reverse mission of prophetic social ministry. Such emulation of the great missioner’s pastoral vision and style will be the better way of bringing alive his canonization. It will also resonate the challenge to “apostolic courage to come out of itself” that Cardinal Bergoglio presented to the Church, just before he was elected pope.

Hector Welgampola

welgampo@gmail.com

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

In Manila: Filipinos waited to greet Pope Francis

Papal Visit Men Women rush NJ Viehland

Men, women rush to get a spot on an empty truck to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as he goes from Villamor Airbase to the nunciature in Taft Avenue. NJ Viehland Photos

MANILA, PHILIPPINES Filipinos came in droves to line streets of Manila, where Pope Francis’ motorcade breezed through the 14 miles from Villamor Air Base to the nunciature on Taft Avenue.
The sidewalks beyond the barricades from the corner of Taft near the nuncio’s residence down Roxas Boulevard were teeming with people hours before the expected 5:45 p.m. landing of the plane that carried him from Sri Lanka.

Some people, like Gladys Silvano, told NCR she arrived at 3 a.m. It was her day off as a cashier in a restaurant, and she wanted to make sure she found a spot that would give her clear view.

There were no video screens installed in this part of the motorcade. See what they did in NCR Photo blog: Crowds greet Pope Francis in Manila  N.J. Viehland | Jan. 15, 2015

Quevedo: Dialogue in Asia and Francis’ dialogue

 NJ Viehland Photos

Former officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao greeted Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato at a dinner celebration in Cotabato of his birthday and creation as cardinal. NJ Viehland Photos

MANILA, PHILIPPINES
It is very encouraging that we are on the right track — that we are not a church apart that thinks differently from the pope, from the universal church – Orlando Quevedo.
Full report Quevedo: Francis’, Asian church’s definitions of dialogue are the same N.J. Viehland  |  Jan. 14, 2015
Asian Family buddhist hindu catholic NJ Viehland

Congress on Asian Family with Buddhist monk, Hindu mother and Catholic evangelist Bo Sanchez. NJ Viehland Photos

Pope Francis in Asia – Asians look forward to Pope Francis’ visit, healing

Papal Visit 2015 Letran NJ Viehland Photos

Children playing street ball said they will watch Pope Francis ride around nearby Manila Cathedral on Jan. 16

 

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Pope Francis returns to Asia this week, where crises are priming the ground for the kind of church he is working to grow.

“Francis’ dream of a church that is bruised and wounded and muddied is what the church in Asia wishes to be,” said Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Philippines, who for years led the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, or FABC, and who was named a cardinal by Pope Francis last year.

Read full report 

Sri Lanka Church announces post-election Papal Visit schedule

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Newly installed President Maithripala Sirisena and his First Lady followed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith will greet Pope Francis when he arrives in Colombo from Rome tomorrow Jan 13, Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer online newspaper reported.

More on the post-election papal visit schedule published here