Incoming CBCP head hits ‘pork’ in Church

Paterno Esmaquel II
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas challenges priests to practice what they preach

NO TO 'PORK.' Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas challenges priests to practice what they preach. File photo from EPA/Nat Garcia

MANILA, Philippines – For the incoming head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), churchmen share the blame for the “shameless corruption” in government that has sparked public outrage, especially after the pork barrel exposé.

“The issue is beyond pork barrel,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a letter to mark his 12th anniversary as bishop on Saturday, August 31. 

“The issue is the breakdown of our moral fiber as a Christian nation. The issue could be the diminishing relevance and eroding credibility of moral shepherds,” said Villegas, who will assume the CBCP presidency in December.

He said churchmen should “let go” of their own P-O-R-K, an acronym that means: 

  • P – “No more protest without alternative – the fear of the Lord is our only alternative;”
  • O – “No more complacent orderliness without the ‘mess’ of the Gospel – we must smell like the sheep and get out of the swivel chair;”
  • R – “No more religiosity without godliness – we must insist on conversion and repentance;” and
  • K – “Beyond knowledge of the faith let us live it – let us first be the example of what we teach”

“We have our own ‘pork’ to abolish so that we can be better,” he told priests in his letter.

Villegas, currently CBCP’s vice president, was one of the first Church leaders who spoke out on the pork barrel.

In a statement in July, Villegas criticized the pork barrel as a tool to advance political interests. He appealed to the public, including the Church, not to solicit money from politicians.

“Let us make it our rule of life when we relate to politicians: ‘Walang hihingi!‘ (Don’t ask money!) Every time we ask our politicians for monetary help, we tempt them to dig into the pork barrel coffers or jueteng chests to accommodate our request.”

READ: ‘Man does not need pork to go with bread’

The pork barrel scam involves the alleged misuse of billions of pesos in development funds. It was the subject of the Million People March, a protest by up to 70,000 Filipinos against the pork barrel system last Monday, August 26. (Watch Rappler’s video report below.)

‘Protest without alternative’

Villegas urged the Church to examine its conscience, and to “take fresh new steps to restore morality in public and private life.”

“It is not the smoke of incense that will bring us to heaven. It is not the pages of our prayer books that will make us saints. It is not the glow of lit candles that makes us holy. It is the imitation of Christ that we must always aspire for. The goal of all Church programs is intimacy with and imitation of Christ,” Villegas said.

He added that priests should propose “the only alternative to our social ills,” instead of simply protesting.

“Protest without alternative is a dead-end path. We cannot afford to be known as a Church of denunciations and prohibitions. As we denounce evil and sin, we must in the same breath propose imitating Christ as the only alternative to our social ills,” he said.

Villegas also challenged priests to reach out to their flock.

This is the same call made by Pope Francis, who has criticized a “self-referential” Church, and said priests should live as shepherds “with the smell of sheep.”

‘Zeal shortage’

“Sadly brother priests, we have become pastors of the status quo. We have slid down to just ‘maintaining’ the Church, keeping the schedule, continuing the ‘order’ of the day. This cannot continue. We cannot be swivel-chair pastors. We must get out to the barangays and public schools, visit the charity wards of hospitals, teach catechism again, visit homes again – make a ‘mess’ in society,” he said.

Villegas said, “The problem is not priest shortage but zeal shortage.”

The archbishop, a protégé of the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, delivered a litany of problems that plague Catholic priests.

He said: “We have taught the Christian doctrines but we have failed to connect them to life. We know the faith but we do not live it. What does it matter if we know the dogma of the Trinity but we cannot live the love of the Trinity among us? What does it matter if the Ten Commandments can be recited backward and forward and yet people continue stealing and killing, cheating and coveting? What does it matter if the mysteries of the rosary are memorized and prayed and yet we make sure that Christ does not disturb us in our complacency?”

“Knowledge of the faith without living that faith is only an ego massage. It makes us think that we are good Catholics although the reality is the opposite.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.