New PH cardinal tells Church: Be humble

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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In an interview after the Pope named him a cardinal, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle says the Church shouldn't act like a 'triumphalistic, know-it-all' institution

'CARDINAL TAGLE.' Formally appointed a cardinal soon, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle is seen to be close to the grassroots. File photo from Tagle's Facebook page, courtesy of Jesuit Communications

MANILA, Philippines – He will soon become a prince of the Catholic Church, but Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, a low-key and once-reluctant bishop, keeps his feet on the ground.

And he wants a humbler Church.

“You may be saying the right things, but people will not listen to you if the manner by which you communicate reminds them of a triumphalistic, know-it-all type of institution,” Tagle said in a Vatican Radio interview Wednesday evening, October 24. That was hours after Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal along with 5 others.

Tagle said his thoughts ring true especially in Asia, with people who operate more on “feeling and sensing.”

“I realized that the sufferings of people, and the difficult questions that they ask, are really invitations for us to, first, be in solidarity with them, not to pretend that we have all the solutions and all the answers,” the newly appointed cardinal said.

“They see a concrete face of God,” he added, “in a Church that can just sometimes be silent with them, be as confused as they are, also telling them, ‘You know, we share the same situation of confusion and searching.'”

Tagle said a similar thing at a recent key gathering of bishops worldwide, called a synod. “A young girl asked: ‘Are we the youth lost or has the Church lost us?'” he remarked. He then stressed the need for humility, among other things, to show God to the “seemingly indifferent and aimless societies of our time.”

Described as one of Asia’s top theologians, Tagle echoes this message in eschewing clericalism. 

“Like those who opposed Jesus in the name of authentic religion, we could be blind to God and neighbors because of self-righteousness, spiritual pride and rigidity of mind,” he told an audience of mostly bishops and priests, in a much applauded speech at a Quebec religious congress in 2008.

He said: “Ecclesiastical customs and persons, when naively and narrowly deified and glorified, might become hindrances to true worship and compassion.”

In an interview with Newsbreak in 2002, Tagle said the Church should reach out to those “who feel alienated.” “I am loyal to the Church but I am not also blind,” he said. “We must also indulge in self-criticism to bring us back to the poor.”

Timely appointment

Tagle’s emphasis on humility is crucial especially for the Catholic Church in the Philippines. 

While a mostly Catholic country, the Philippines has seen issues such as the Reproductive Health (RH) bill dividing Catholic leaders and their followers, in an exchange of heated and sometimes hurtful words. Tagle is seen as a voice of moderation.

LAUGHING BISHOP. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle is known for his sense of humor. File photo from Tagle's Facebook page, courtesy of Jesuit Communications

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) top doctrinal guardian, Tagle himself opposes the RH bill. But he has, unlike others, shunned name-calling, prompting even RH bill advocate Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel to hail his initial appointment as Manila archbishop.

“I received the news of his appointment with joy talaga, and also immediately with a lot of hope that he can introduce a tone of dialogue, less combativeness, more empathy for women within the Catholic Church hierarchy,” Hontiveros said in an interview in 2011.

The soon-to-be Cardinal Tagle also has huge potential to shape the Catholic Church globally.

He will, after all, be an adviser to the Pope – the role of a cardinal, along with electing a new pope in case the current one resigns or dies. He is also reportedly close to Pope Benedict XVI, with the latter having mentored him when he was finishing his theology doctorate, according to Newsbreak.

Based on previous statements, his involvement is expected in key Catholic issues like that of erring priests, especially those accused of sexual abuse. “The best way to care for the offender is to make him face up to the misconduct,” Tagle said in February at an unprecedented symposium in Rome.

Future pope? 

His influence may also be gleaned from the attention he has received. Touted as a papal candidate as early as last year, Tagle has already been much talked-about in global Catholic circles.

This batch of new cardinals will likely have Tagle as its “star,” said prominent Catholic writer Rocco Palmo on Wednesday evening. Palmo went as far as saying this batch will “be decidely Chito-centric,” referring to the new Filipino cardinal’s nickname, “Chito.”

John Allen, a veteran Vatican journalist and analyst, said Tagle is one of two new cardinals “who could draw consideration as possible successors to Benedict XVI if the mood at the time of the next conclave is to look for leadership to the booming church in the global south.”

'PAPAL MATERIAL.' The soon-to-be Cardinal Tagle is seen to be a potential head of the Catholic Church. File photo from Tagle's Facebook page, courtesy of Jesuit Communications

“Tagle has turned heads during the current Synod of Bishops on new evangelization for his emphasis on a humbler, simpler church with a greater capacity for silence,” Allen explained. 

He has indeed gone a long way – from a reluctant bishop of Imus, Cavite who was known to take public transport in deference to the poor, to a new cardinal and potential pope who challenges the Church to be humble.

In his interview on Wednesday, however, Tagle’s wish for himself sounded characteristically simple: to bring “a lot of optimism and hope.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email