Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Philippines: Pampanga’s Best or Church’s Disgrace?

Update: Fr. Panlilio won the gubernatorial election in spite of the predictions in the article below. What is most astonishing about this article is the bishop's willingness to admit that one third of the priests in his area have broken their celibacy vows (highlighted) -- this in one of the most conservative Catholic countries in the world.

By Aries Rufo in San Simon, Pampanga
Monday, 07 May 2007

It is easy to get carried away by the gubernatorial candidacy of Pampanga Catholic priest Eddie Panlilio. The exceptional support generated by the province’s poster boy for alternative politics has been widely reported in the media. Rich and poor, the influential and the ordinary, contribute their share to his campaign.

Some have described Panlilio’s candidacy as Pampanga’s version of people power, which is not entirely without basis.

Panlilio is up against two powerful interests: the incumbent Governor Mark Lapid and board member Lilia “Baby” Pineda. Both represent traditional politics, powered by money and patronage.

But his candidacy is double edged, as it has shown the influence of the Church as well as its divisions and weaknesses.

Panlilio has unwittingly divided the Church, one bishop told Newsbreak. His critics, including from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, say Panlilio is an “embarrassment” to the Church.

“He is showing a bad example to his fellow priests that it is okay to abandon your priestly vocation in favor of ambition,” the bishop said. “And we are not trained for politics.”

Open Target

Under Church laws, priests and bishops may not assume public positions that exercise civil power, a tenet in the separation of Church and State. In the Philippines, this Church prohibition has been challenged by other priests, running for elections anyway but, so far, none has won.

In this election, two other men of the cloth, one in Zamboanga and in Marinduque, are also seeking election. But Panlilio’s case dwarfs the other two, given the fact that pundits are giving him a good chance of winning. He could be the first Catholic priest to win an election.

One risk of entering a political campaign is that the candidate opens himself to personal attacks. Panlilio is an open target and this poses a problem, the bishop interviewed by Newsbreak said. Any mudslinging could affect his colleagues and the Church by extension—and reopen old wounds.

For instance, shortly after he joined the race, text messages circulated that Panlilio allegedly had romantic flings and sired children.

Panlilio has denied the allegation, but the bishop maintains it is not without basis. The prelate pointed out that violations of the vow of celibacy have been a recurring problem among Pampanga priests, with 43 (out of 120 or so), involved in relationships or having children. (emphasis ours) The allegation against Panlilio has again highlighted this problem among the clergy in the province.

Panlilio admitted his romantic liaisons before a group of Protestant pastors who grilled him in one meeting where Newsbreak was present. The pastors, members of the Jesus is Lord Movement, were considering supporting Panlilio. One pastor asked Panlilio if the rumor that the priest has a family is true. Without confirming or denying the affairs, Panlilio replied: “I have had my mistakes. Who does not?”

He was categorical however in denying he had sired children.

Because of his past liaisons, the bishop doubts that Panlilio would be able to run the provincial government with a moral high ground. “His past and present relationships would be among those who will take part in dividing the spoils.”

Panlilio acknowledged that other fellow priests “think differently, but many are supportive of me.” His superior, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, “respects my decision” although he suspended Panlilio’s priestly functions, like saying mass and hearing confessions.

If he loses, Panlilio said he can go back to being a priest...


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