Should the Catholic Church shut up?

Should the Catholic Church shut up?
The moral message of religious leaders does not resonate with the public's captivation with safety and the President's willpower

The Catholic Church is now under attack. President Duterte, Mocha Uson, and their many allies have rallied together to shame religious leaders.

The President questioned the clergy’s moral ascendancy in the midst of corruption and sexual abuse. In her viral column, Mocha Uson suggested that the CBCP is the anti-Christ.

These remarks are, of course, misleading as they assume that the Catholic Church is a uniform institution across its ranks. Nevertheless, these attacks are to be expected. More so now that its priests and bishops have become vocal about killings happening around the country.  

How the clergy must proceed, however, is not an easy feat.  

Filipino Catholics do not like it when priests politicize the pulpit. Their response to what was then the Reproductive Health Bill, for example, alienated many parishioners who simply wanted to be edified at church. Also, many Catholics do not think that priests are credible on marital matters because of their celibacy. Many might have agreed too that priests, given sexual allegations, do not have moral ascendancy.  

The message is very clear: the Church, represented by its clergy, is all talk. And so its priests need to shut up. But should they?


My view is that the response of the Catholic Church cannot solely rely on the courage of its leaders. The Catholic Church, as a community of believers, has a collective contribution to shaping the quality of conversations in the public sphere.  

We have to admit that vitriol has already hijacked the way we talk as a society. It has come to this: might is right. The more curses we lodge at the other person, the more righteous we feel we become.  

This explains why the death of drug addicts has not engendered public resistance.

And so virulent resistance cannot be the message of the Catholic Church, or for that matter, the wider community of believers. There is no better time for faith, reason, and wisdom to come together.

Right now, some of the clergy’s statements, while noble, may sound moralistic to the public. And the public trusts the President. It needs to be recognized too that people are generally satisfied with the war on drugs.

No wonder then that the PNP can claim that people feel safer and that everyday crime has declined.  

In other words, the moral message of religious leaders does not resonate with the public’s captivation with safety and the President’s willpower. Only time will tell whether this sense of security translates to lasting peace and progress.

At the same time, the credibility of the Catholic Church is called into question. 

Collective response

While it is relatively easier to take to the pulpit, confronting a triumphalist government in this manner only backfires.  

It is for this reason that the response of Catholics – ministers and ordinary believers – must go back to what they are good at. The relevance of Christianity, as its long history demonstrates, still lies in its small communities.  

And many of its communities are now affected by both illegal drugs and killings.  

Should the Catholic Church then shut up?  

Not quite. But its response needs to be a little wiser.  

Its communities at this point need more than just encouragement.  More than ever, Catholics need to demonstrate that they are the light of the world.  For this to happen they must go back to their communities – to bring back drug users and support families of murdered individuals.  But at the same time they must not forget that illegal drugs have also destroyed families.  

In the face of the enemy, Catholics cannot keep quiet. But they cannot just be noisy.  Otherwise their message will fall on deaf ears and rendered invalid by the antagonistic figures they seek to critique.

The struggle ahead is going to be long and arduous. To fight back, the credibility of the Catholic Church must be unassailable.  

Not just against its critics. But for people who have been rendered helpless by many. –     


Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, PhD is a sociologist of religion at the Ateneo de Manila University and St Vincent School of Theology.  He is the author of “Being Catholic in the Contemporary Philippines: Young People Reinterpreting Religion” (Routledge, 2016).  He is also one of the authors of “Introduction to World Religions and Belief Systems”, a worktext for Senior High School published by Rex. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio