‘How can a book destroy the Church?’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Like Pope Francis, the book 'Altar of Secrets' helps rebuild the Catholic Church by exposing its weaknesses

MANILA, Philippines – In Vatican City, the first Latin American pontiff denounces a self-centered Catholic Church. Shaking mindsets about a supposedly unquestionable hierarchy, Pope Francis engages the Church in self-criticism. 

In the Philippines, during the papacy of Francis, a veteran investigative journalist does exactly this.

A Catholic who once desired to enter the priesthood, journalist Aries Rufo has launched an unsettling book on the sexual misconduct, political interference, and financial mismanagement by bishops and priests.

The first of its kind in the Philippines, the book Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church contains groundbreaking exposés on ranking prelates. These include investigative stories on the sexual indiscretions of high-profile bishops and multimillion-peso donations that remain unaccounted for.

In the book’s dedication, Rufo makes his intentions clear: “For those who remain steadfast in their faith yet ache for reforms within the Holy Mother Church.”

He explains this more during his book launch on Friday, June 7, incidentally the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “Are we out to destroy the Church? Of course the answer is no.”

“How can one book destroy a Church that has been in existence for more than 2,000 years? As my favorite archbishop, Oscar Cruz, said, the Church has been there for two millennia. There must be something divine in it to survive that long – which is true, actually.”

“Instead, we try to portray a Church that is divine and human as well, a local Church trying its best to institute reforms, taking baby steps to respond to the changing times without compromising its principles and dogma,” Rufo explains. (Watch Rufo’s speech below.)

Rufo’s book also aims to hold the clergy accountable for their misdemeanors. The author says, “Not only are they accountable to the people, but also to a higher source from where they draw their moral responsibility.”

‘Tough love’ for Church

His colleague, veteran political reporter Miriam Grace Go, says critics will surely question Rufo’s motives and credibility. Go says Rufo – as well as his news organization then, the award-winning investigative magazine Newsbreak – encountered the same questions whenever he investigated the Catholic Church.

“Let us assure you that Aries is somebody who loves his Church, the Catholic Church. But it’s a tough love. How else can you fix it and make it stronger and more effective in serving and ministering to the flock, but by cleansing it? That is exactly what Aries is trying to do,” Go says during Rufo’s book launch.

But will Rufo’s book sit well with the likes of Pope Francis?

Well, he’s the same Pope who, during the conclave that elected him, delivered a litany of problems that make the Church “sick.” Then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio said: “When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light; she ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness.” 

It’s the same pontiff who denounced the hypocrisy of priests, admonished “intolerant” Catholics, and said prelates should become “shepherds living with ‘the smell of sheep’” and not “collectors of antiques and novelties.”

Time and again, the bishop of Rome hasn’t shirked from criticizing his own Church.

How different is Rufo’s Altar of Secrets– Rappler.com

Read excerpts from the book:

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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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com