The John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues (JJCICSI) and the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) organized a round table discussion (RTD) last April 28, 2016 at Faber Hall, Ateneo de Manila University to draw comments on the paper “The Public Engagement of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines on Issues of the Environment, the Family, and Corruption,” presented by JJCICSI Research Fellow Miguel Paolo A. Rivera. The RTD, attended by around 30 representatives from government, civil society groups, the religious sector, and the academe, was financially supported by the Henry Luce Foundation through a nine-country research consortium on Religion, Public Policy, and Social Transformation, headed by the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS).
The data presented in the paper delivered by Mr. Rivera were culled from the findings of a study on “Knowledge Needs, Acquisition, and Use among the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines,” jointly conducted from March 2014 to March 2015 by JJCICSI and the IPC, and principally funded by the IPC. For the study, in-depth, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 62 active bishops, i.e., bishops who were not yet retired when they were interviewed during the one-year study period.
Of the 62 bishops interviewed for the study, 58 identified environmental issues, family issues, or corruption as one of their top three priority issues as bishops.
The paper cited interventions made by the 58 bishop respondents on those issues. These interventions were categorized into either an exclusively civil-society approach, in which actions are “addressed to the hierarchy, institutions, or organizations of the Roman Catholic Church, to secular civil society groups, to Catholics in general, or to the citizenry in general,” on the one hand; or a mixed approach, on the other, which combined the civil-society approach with an approach addressed to political society (“legislative bodies both local and national, as well as political parties and movements”) and/or the state ( “institutions and functionaries of the national and local government as well as the legitimate forces of coercion”).
Based on the paper’s findings as presented by Mr. Rivera, the highest percentage of bishops who adopted mixed approaches was on the issue of corruption, at 57 percent; followed by environmental issues, at 44 percent. The lowest percentage of bishops who used mixed approaches was on family issues, at 36 percent, with more bishops opting for exclusively civil-society interventions. Values formation was also cited as a prominent intervention across all three issues and all three levels in the public sphere.
Three discussants, each speaking for one of the three issue categories and representing different levels of the public sphere, gave a commentary on the paper.
For the issue of corruption, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Assistant Secretary Maxine Tanya Hamada shared that “When you talk about corruption, it is really where you put discretion into the decision-making process. It can be decision at the community level, even at the family level, or the state level…. corruption goes back to the very point of decision-making when decisions are made not for the greater good but for one’s own benefit…It is difficult when the bishop becomes a ‘voice of the voiceless.’ That is not his role. His role is probably to enable the community to come to its own conclusion and take its own stand, and I think this has been highlighted in the milestones that the Church has played over the course of Philippine history…”
Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) Executive Director Ms. Sylvia Miclat, speaking on environmental issues, said that “Environmental and social justice concerns are priorities indeed of the Catholic Church in the Philippines…dioceses and parishes especially where these are located in peripheries of Philippine societies—in the uplands, valleys, and coastal areas—are often drawn in to respond as they are also often the only recourse for communities, generally neglected and forgotten by government… So the poverty of environmental and social landscapes demands a broad response from Philippine society. The Catholic Church—with its bishops and priests, other religious and laity, along with other faith-based organizations—[is] often at the forefront in ensuring there is media and government attention and active response.” She also mentioned the need for more dialogue involving various groups, and the need to professionalize and be accountable to local processes.
Ms. Milagros “Mitos” Rivera, Executive Director of the Institute for Reproductive Health Philippines (IRHphi), commented that for family issues, “…in terms of awareness, even people in government, unfortunately, especially down the line, at community-level, … don’t know what reproductive health means… I think we need more bishops who are more progressive and more in touch with what’s happening on the ground, especially on family issues to be more aligned with the global trends such as gender issues, same-sex issues, and somehow integrate it with what they’re doing…”
An open forum followed the discussants’ commentaries. Some themes arising from the open forum included the need for consensus-building on and greater collaboration among the different social spheres, the need for dialogue between the bishops and the laity, the charismatic renewal movement within the Catholic Church, the basic ecclesial communities (BECS), and a bishop’s role in addressing his diocese’s needs.
The paper presented by Mr. Rivera will be refined and presented to the ICRS-Luce consortium and to other scholars, policymakers, and religious leaders and activists at a conference on “Religion in the Public Sphere” in Bangkok in May 2016. The IPC-JJCICSI research project on “Knowledge Needs, Acquisition, and Use among the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines” will be completed in mid-2016.