Of (contrite?) Catholic bishops

Posted: July 15, 2011 in Catholic bishops, GMA, PCSO

After enjoying tax breaks, can an established church receive money from government without violating the Constitutional provision of Church-State separation?

Seven Catholic bishops figured prominently in the news over the past week as they were reported by the Commission on Audit (COA) to have obtained funds from the state-run Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) for the purchase of motor vehicles.  

Most controversial among them was Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan who reportedly asked GMA in a damning letter to gift him with a new vehicle on his birthday.

Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos

The controversy goaded the Senate blue ribbon committee to invite the seven to a public hearing.  Absent a subpoena, all six bishops attended the hearing save for one who was abroad.  The latter still sent his representative, though.

Bishops in Senate hearing (from Philippine Inquirer

Bishops in Senate hearing (from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Perhaps, the bishops knew they will get off the hook at the Senate.

Prior to the Senate hearing, there was much ado over the fact that none of the purchased vehicles were Mitsubishi Pajeros.   PCSO Chairman Margie Juico was chastened over this gaffe; she apologized; and yet some demanded that she resign from her post.

I believe too much was made out of this ‘error’.  Granted that the vehicles purchased were not Pajeros (which cost from 2.5 million to 2.7 million in today’s prices), the actual vehicles were not chicken feed themselves.  At today’s prices, Mitshubishi Monteros cost 1.3 to 1.5 million apiece, Mitshubishi Stradas cost 0.87 to 1.3 million, and Isuzu Crosswind Sportivos cost 1.15 to 1.22 million.

I could not obtain the actual purchase prices of the bishops’ vehicles.  However, the current prices should give us an idea of how much they cost in comparison to Pajeros.

The Senate hearings started with Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago absolving the bishops even before testimony was heard.  Her colleagues followed suit and softened up.  

In summation, blue ribbon committee chairman Senator Teofisto Guingona II said: “What happened is we had closure to the issue.  It was also proved that there was no Pajero.  The bishops were able to air their side.  The PCSO also said sorry that there was no Pajero.  There was no closure.  We were able to establish that the vehicles were used for secular purposes.”

Senator Teofisto Guingona III

I can only surmise that the Senators were mollified by the pastoral statement issued earlier by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) and read by CBCP outgoing president Bishop Nereo Odchimar.  The letter had the bishops admitting: “As sheperds struggling to love you like Jesus the Good Sheperd, we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you.”  

I also suspect that they were also impressed by a mythical Catholic vote that could be mustered by the bishops.

Ultimately, the Senate hearing was a disappointing dud.

Notwithstanding errors, the identity of the vehicles were not the issue.  It was not even whether the vehicles benefited the bishops and their dioceses in a merely incidental manner, as averred by Senator Santiago.

Was it a matter of quid pro quo?  As the Inquirer asked, why were the seven bishops favored?  Did these bishops reciprocate with political support for the embattled GMA?  Perhaps, the answers to these questions can be learned from the former officials of PCSO.

Alas, we did not get much illumination from the Senate this time.

Perhaps, the issues can be clarified by the courts.

That may be necessary as four Catholic bishops reportedly urged President Noynoy Aquino and PCSO Chairman Margie Juico to make a public apology for supposedly dragging the Church into the Pajero scandal.  

  1. Mark B Baldo says:

    Hi Sir Mendoza,

    It is only now that I saw this blog post.
    I too was very saddened by what happened and was really confused. I felt very thankful when the Senate “absolved” the bishops. At the same time, I cannot forget that feeling where something’s still amiss. I wish the government accepted the cars when the bishops tried to return them.

    i am not opposed to donations from the government but they cannot be as arbitrary as this nor as secretive.

    I always believe in the Church in spite of all the faults of its members and mine too. Yet, it is not undeniable that morality puts more burden on those who posit moral ascendancy.


    Mark B.

  2. bongmendoza says:

    Hi Leilani,

    I see that you have kept your faith in the Lord notwithstanding the fecklessness of some of His representatives. Your blood might boil further when you read about bishops’ investments in the local stock market–including those in mining firms.

    Indeed, I can only echo your prayer–that priests who embrace a life of poverty and serve the poor should increase.

    But I think, the sins of priests and bishops are not the primary issue here. The seven bishops have been induced to sin (however, this does not excuse them) by secular powers. The issue then is how to prevent such corruption. Do you think a prohibition of government donations to the Church is the solution?

  3. leilanipm says:

    Where to begin…? I have not been a Catholic for nearly 40 years. I choose to pray directly to our Lord, I never felt the need to have a go between. I always thought a charitable heart is the most loving example of being a good Christian or simply put, a good human being. How can the church and its representatives live so well, accept such “donations” to the tune of millions when many of its flock suffer, naked with only a whisper of a prayer for hope? This just rubs me the wrong way. They can justify the receipt of these so called gifts and turn it inside out, the end result is all the same to me. Where is the charitable heart? Where is the giving to the poor? How dare they even “accept” such gifts? Instead, why don’t they build shelters and schools, clothe and feed the hungry children? Yeah, contrived contrition. Another reason why I can’t ever be a good Catholic. Apart from the pedophile priests that have given the church a bad name, greedy bishops add to the stench. Multiple litanies can’t repair that, only deeds that truly uplift the children and the poor from suffering. The question is, will they ever do that? And to priests who embrace a life of poverty to truly help the poor with the same calling as Mother Teresa, forgive me for lambasting your so called leaders. They give you true multipliers of good, a bad rap.

  4. As a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, I hesitated to comment on the Senate hearing with the bishops. They carry so much celestial gravitas that I feel I have to be as white as the salts of Las Pinas to be entitled to comment. But therein lies the heart of the matter. Catholics were taught religion at the same time as their ABCs. The first thing I read was a child’s book on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. For the bishops taken as a whole, and for Bishop de Dios Pueblos particularly to go that low is therefore a violation of every Catholic’s sacred trust in men of the cloth. Add to that the latter’s comments on PNoy about a month ago, as if a conductor had pointed to him to sound off in unison with others who were hitting the President as well. My faith is not shattered at all, it must be said, but it’s a sad day for Catholics who have nothing but love for the Church, a love which resonates deep in the heart and soul, bone, sinew and marrow of every believer who can only turn to God for comfort.

    • bongmendoza says:

      Hi Willy,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on this particular blog entry.

      I am quite sure that even if saddened by the scandalous events, your faith is not shattered at all. The object of Catholics’ love and adoration is God. The conduct of certain bishops indicates that like all of us, even men of the cloth are sinners. And they sinned as they bowed to temporal power.

      Genuine contriteness should be replied to with compassion and forgiveness.

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