I see that my good friend Caloy Conde has already filed a story for tomorrow’s IHT. It is a take off on the scoop by Newsbreak’s Aries Rufo, another excellent reporter, detailing the "tongue-lashing" the Papal Nuncio allegedly gave the bishops last Saturday. (Manolo Quezon had already pointed out this breaking story earlier, as a "partial" validation of his view of the proceedings.) As a result of the Vatican’s scolding, we are told, the bishops held back from demanding the President’s resignation.
I regret to disagree with all three friends. IMHO, I think they got it wrong.
I do not dispute the fact that Archbishop Antonio Franco spoke at the start of the Saturday proceedings; it is a tradition that the Pope’s ambassador address a national conference of bishops every time it meets in plenary.
I do not dispute the excerpts from his speech which ran in Newsbreak; for instance, this one: "bishops are out of their place when they get into direct action, attending rallies on political issues, siding with one group or another, being used by parties with hidden agenda for purposes of grabbing power… I am convinced that this direct action is being exploited for partisan politics and it is wrong for the Church and for the country.”
(To be sure, I do not even dispute the correctness of the Nuncio’s view.)
What I do disagree with, based on my own sources, my reading of the various stories before they went to press, my line-by-line study of the two articles in question, and, not least, my understanding of the workings of the church I belong to, is the assertion that the Vatican caused the bishops to slam on the brakes.
Not true. This afternoon I asked Archbishop of Davao Fernando Capalla, the CBCP president, if what an influential bishop had told me on Friday afternoon (that is, some 15 hours before Franco’s address) was indeed the truth, that the conference was not going to ask GMA to resign. His reply, via SMS: "Yes consensus was always there. What delayed [it] was the precise formulation. Nuncio only reminded us of Church teachings."
The Newsbreak story itself quotes an unnamed bishop as saying "that the Nuncio’s speech ‘was not a factor’ in the CBCP’s pastoral statement. The CBCP position on the political tempest was done, except only on how the statement should be presented. But the bishop stressed that the basic substance of the pastoral statement was already the emerging consensus even before they sat down for the plenary."
The IHT story also includes the following: "Archbishop Oscar Cruz, one of those who attended the meeting, denied on television that they had been pressured by the Vatican to go soft on Arroyo."
So that’s three different and high-level sources (assuming the Newsbreak source is neither Capalla nor Cruz), all saying the consensus preceded the Vatican’s alleged intervention. (There are other such positive denials, so to speak, in tomorrow’s papers.)
But doesn’t the Newsbreak story quote two bishops saying otherwise? Actually, no. The relevant paragraph begins: "Two bishops confirmed Newsbreak’s information that Franco scolded them Saturday (July 9) morning over what he described as excessive political meddling of some bishops."
I would argue with the use of the word "scolding," but essentially that sentence got it right. At least, as far as it goes. In my reading, what the bishops actually confirmed was the fact of the speech, and the essence of that speech. But did they actually confirm that (a) the bishops were all set to make the demand for resignation and (b) by speaking, Franco stopped them from doing so? No such thing.
Doesn’t the IHT story assert that the Apostolic Nunciature chose not to issue a denial? Yes, but what exactly did it not deny? That "the envoy, Antonio Franco, had conveyed the displeasure of Pope Benedict XVI in a speech delivered to the bishops Saturday."
Again, I would argue whether it was in fact the Pope’s displeasure that was conveyed, but even if it were, would this fact support the story’s main assertion: that the Vatican caused the CBCP to temper its position?
The Newsbreak story itself suggests the true intent of the Nuncio’s speech: the handful of bishops who had taken a high-profile role in politically radical initiatives. "Instead of being the prophetic voice that urges institutions of State to work for the good of the people, bishops become the ones who prevent institutions to work," Franco said (quite calmly, according to some bishops, with no whipping and lashing of the tongue). "While some joined rallies versus change of Constitution in the past, now some are advocating total neglect of it. It is the perception people get because of some confusing statements.”
He was, of course, referring to Bishops Labayen, Tobias, and Iniguez, who have called for non-constitutional solutions to the present political crisis. ("Total neglect" of the Constitution; that is some phrase.) Were these three prelates able to convince the rest of their brethren that their position was the right one for the conference itself? I don’t think so. Their position did not stand a chance of being adopted by the majority.
So the Nuncio spoke about drawing the line between serving as prophets and acting as politicians. What else is new? This is a perennial concern of the Vatican. It was a concern throughout most of the papacy of the famously political Pope John Paul II. It was a concern even during the CBCP’s finest hour, on February 13, 1986, when the bishops declared that Marcos’s new government had no moral basis. As Newsbreak itself recounted last year: "Reuter recalled that shortly after the 1986 snap elections, Rome warned Sin and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, then CBCP president, against issuing a pastoral statement condemning the irregularities in the elections and calling Marcos’s victory a fluke. [Later,] Sin and Vidal were both summoned to Rome to explain their defiance of the Holy See’s order."
What do I read in that? That nothing will stop the bishops from thundering against the political order — if, that is, they are led to do so by their discernment.