INTER-CHURCH relations in the Philippines — already strained by recent troubles — sunk to a new low when a leading Protestant cleric launched a scathing criticism of the country’s Roman Catholic bishops, accusing them of “arrogance” and “complicity in corruption” with the scandal-tainted regime of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Addressing an international peace conference, Bishop Pedro Maglaya of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) — which has links with Presbyterian churches worldwide — said: “Some Catholic bishops failed to teach humility to their flock, who include Mrs Arroyo.” The Bishop said that the Philippines was consistently ranked among Asia’s five most corrupt countries by the Berlin-based think-tank Transparency International. By virtue of the leading place occupied by Roman Catholics in the government, the Church should share in a collective failure of direction.
When challenged about the courageous dissent mounted by leading Roman Catholic bishops to the regime, Bishop Maglaya acknowledged the positive efforts of clerics such as Archbishop Oscar Cruz and his fellow bishops; but he maintained that the RC Church generally had “sustained and succoured Arroyo and her corrupt band” for longer than was tolerable.
While UCCP sources have since clarified that Bishop Maglaya was speaking his personal view, his anti-Catholic posturing to a foreign audience reflects Protestant frustration at the failure of many Roman Catholic bishops to confront President Arroyo about her record on human rights and corruption.
The unsolved murder of Bishop Alabyo of Aglipay in 2006, and the more recent release of a UCCP pastor, the Revd Berlin Guerroro, after a 15-month detention during which he was tortured by police, prompted protests from some RC bishops. The silence of others in the hierarchy left a bitterness among Protestant leaders, who account for ten per cent of the total population of 88 million in what is the world’s third largest Catholic nation.