On Father Obach's apology
"Do you know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserters of the divine law; you are she who persuades him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert – that is death – even the Son of God had to die". – Tertullian, Early Father of the Roman Catholic Church
There have been many discussions in social media about Father Romeo Obach's humiliation of a 17 -year-old unwed mother during the baptism of her child. Like many others I was incensed upon seeing the video and posted it on my own social media page with some rather strong words.
As a result, friends started tagging me in their own discussions. Subsequent developments also made my friends tag me, especially when Fr. Obach made a written public apology. A friend asked me, “Is the apology sufficient for you?”
The question of course, speaks very much of Philippine Catholicism. Roman Catholicism is the majority religion. For centuries it was also the ideological tool of oppression by the Spanish colonizers. To this day, its role in public life is debatable.
I am one of those rare women of my generation who was born to two agnostic parents. I grew up without the usual assumptions that our muscularly Catholic culture has given to many. My joke to my friends is, despite having lived here all my life and fought my own battles for my country, I sometimes do not feel very Filipino. (This is not an admission to being “Western” either, an accusation hurled at many feminists. My Northern American and European friends often are surprised at the Catholic things I take for granted until they point it out to me.)
A sufficient apology?
So when I was asked if Fr. Obach's apology was sufficient, it made me think first of all why I was being asked. Perhaps the reason was that Fr. Obach apologized to the many like me who were offended by the video. I find that making amends to people like me, made his apology more gracious.
My answer was that I accepted his apology, given that he had courteously asked for it.
It goes without saying that such courtesies should be reciprocated. But my “forgiveness” is irrelevant in that the person who should forgive him is the woman he humiliated and her family. Being a psychologist for torture survivors during the Marcos period and then victims of rape, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse against women, I am very careful not to call for forgiveness from those who were the direct victims and suffered most harm. I find that the perpetrators of the violence (Marcos and his henchmen or the person who abused the woman) almost always accuse the victim seeking recompense of vindictiveness and the inability to forgive. Thus, I find myself in an uneasy position when I am asked to forgive. I do not want to add to pressures on victims.
As a friend noted, the question of personally forgiving Fr. Obach becomes more relevant if one is a member of the Roman Catholic Church. For someone who is not Christian the effect of his actions was merely to make me even more wary of accepting the moral authority of any priest.
Majority religion in a secular society
I am old enough to know that my saying can be construed as an insult to the Catholic religion and his adherents. In fact, I am loathe to come out as an agnostic because I almost always get attempts from people I hardly know to convert me. I am sure they think they are trying to do me good. But that comes with the “taken-for-granted” part of being in the majority. People assume that it is the norm to be a Catholic and things that are particular to that religion should be expected of everyone. I recall for example, statements by anti-RH advocates during the long years of the debate that “everyone in this room is Christian.” They argued this to make everyone concede to their interpretation of what we, good Christians, should be: anti-RH.
Having said this, I do not think my agnosticism is a rebuke to anyone's religion nor do I believe that any religious belief is a rebuke of my agnosticism. The basis for our constitutionally-mandated secular society lies in the belief that there can be profound differences between equally moral people. Thus there are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans. Zoroastrians, agnostics, atheists, etc. The differences do not call upon us to try to outlaw each other. The differences are good because it calls upon anyone to speak and act in such a way that shows others that the beliefs we live are good ones. It asks us to ensure that the community or institution we choose to be with accords to the values we espouse.
This is especially a spiritual challenge for those who belong to the majority religion because the assumption of being the moral norm accrues to the majority. This is more true of the leaders of the religious majority because they become particularly exempt from critical standards.
Which brings me to my point. At a personal level, Fr. Orbach seems to have made amends. If we are to rely on news reports, the victim and her family accepted his apology after he paid them a personal visit and begged their forgiveness.
But if this is all that will happen, than this incident does little good for the Church and all the other victims of its disdain for women.
Watching the video made me wonder where the priest's venom was coming from. He was using a microphone and was showing conviction and passion in his scolding. It reminded me of all the other times the Church has shown such anger and lack of compassion for women.
For example, in the crafting of the Magna Carta for women, the Church opposed that section of the law which prevents schools for expelling an unwed pregnant student. This had been the practice in many Catholic schools. It did not seem to bother the Church that men who have also behaved immorally according to its standards did not get equally punished. I have never heard of a boy getting expelled from a Catholic school for premarital sex or getting someone pregnant.
News reports say that the father of the child Fr. Obach baptized may be more “guilty” than the young woman. I believe she fully intended to marry the man except that he seems not to have had any intentions of marrying her. According to news reports the teenager became suicidal when she found out her lover had taken up with another woman.
Disdain for women
My heart broke upon hearing the background story. But as someone who has heard too many stories about unwanted pregnancy this did not surprise me. The scientific research shows that unintended pregnancies are a result of women's low status rather than the result of any licentiousness or irresponsibility. As in the case of the 17-year-old, unintended pregnancies are often the result of men taking advantage of a woman's socially created vulnerability. Rape, incest, obedience to husband's wishes, lack of sexuality information and lack of access to methods of contraception, are the most common reasons why women have unintended pregnancies. I might add here that the Church is contributory to several of the major causes of unwanted pregnancy. Thus, its refusal to empower women to avoid pregnancies and its rejection of women's right to bodily pleasure, coupled with its woman-blaming and woman-punishing ways, is a double whammy.
Should the desperate woman then seek an abortion or try to commit suicide, the Church condemns the woman even more. My appeal for the Church and Catholics to be more mindful of their majority position is because being more powerful carries with it greater accountability. It stems from the effect their standards (or lack of it) have on the lives of women. The NGO, Likhaan, has documentation of women seeking post-abortion care, near death, who instead of being given compassionate care are lectured and shamed by doctors about their immorality. Father-Obach-scenes are repeated against women in hospitals throughout the country. Perhaps what is unacceptable here is that the doctor confuses his or her role as “priest.” Or perhaps, what is even worse is that in channeling a “priest,” doctors could behave with such cruelty.
But these are the bigger things. Every day, in many ways, the Church puts women down. For example I have heard my friends rail against priests who send women parishioners out of the mass for “lascivious” dressing, such as when they wear strapless shirts or mini skirts. The reason being, I suppose, that women's flesh is somehow evil and cannot be displayed. Yet I see no edicts against all those men who walk around shirtless in public. Furthermore, I have yet to see men get sent out of Church despite their public display of the sin of pride in their material possessions. Men can dress any which way they want including ostentatious shoes, designer shirts and clunky gold chokers and accessories.
As the quotation from one the Church's founders shows, woman-hating marked the beginning of the Church. There are also enough books on the matter that document how this hatred has been nourished through the centuries. Fr. Obach's outburst is merely indicative of this deep-seated disdain.
Perhaps Fr. Orbach is now a better man and priest for his experiences and his attempts at redemption. But I hope the apology does not shield the Church from its own need for introspection as to why it is so cruel to women. - Rappler.com
Sylvia Estrada-Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in Psychology. She is Professor of the Department of Women and Development Studies, College of Social Work and Community Development, University of the Philippines. She is also co-founder and Chair of the Board of Likhaan Center for Women's Health.