More than Tagle’s tears, action is vital

February 28, 2019

It’s no secret that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle can be a crybaby, but awful timing can be a subject of ridicule.

Take for instance last Feb. 21 when the Manila archbishop reportedly “broke into tears” shortly after Pope Francis told Church leaders “we hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice,” at the start of the four-day Vatican summit on sexual abuse of children by priests.

“The Pope meant the children’s cries, Cardinal Tagle. Children, not cardinals. Either you heard wrong or you wanted to stand out among your fellow ‘Men of Faith’ by weeping, crying, whatever,” said a post by netizen Liz Araneta.

“Cardinal Tagle is simply eerie. When the Pope talked about the sex abuse of children, he broke into tears like a soap opera star, the Drama King. It’s as if he learned about such abuses for the first time. When his president abused the belief of the faithful, he only incredibly said, ‘let’s be fools for Christ.’ What kind of leadership can such a ‘leader’ be capable of?” asked another netizen.

Tagle became emotional as he read a keynote speech before the 190 heads of national bishops’ conferences and religious orders, acknowledging that “wounds have been inflicted by us, the bishops, on the victims, and in fact the entire body of Christ.”

“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve,” the cardinal explained.

Tagle’s admission at the Vatican gathering prompted a reaction from Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo that it “validates” the criticisms of President Duterte against the Catholic Church which he called the “most hypocritical” institution in the country, amid his claim that he was molested, while a young student, by a priest.

Cardinals who attended the historic meeting at the Vatican’s Synod Hall had called for a “new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors when they fail to protect their flocks from predator priests,” in line with the message of Pope Francis.

“The holy people of God look to us and expect from us not simple and obvious condemnations, but concrete and effective measures,” the Pontiff said.

A cardinal of Chicago, Blase Cupich, told the Church leaders that “new legal procedures were needed to both report and investigate Catholic superiors when they are accused of misconduct themselves or of negligence in handling other abuse cases.” He added “lay experts must be involved at every step of the process, since rank-and-file Catholics often know far better than priests what trauma the clergy sex abuse and its cover-up has caused.”

The summit meeting also drew criticism against some speakers. One cardinal who was given a prime-time speaking slot was described as a “poster boy for the lack of accountability of church leaders, especially in developing countries,” by Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online group Bishop that documents cases of proven or suspected sex abuse cases by the clergy.

Tagle as speaker also drew criticism. An AP News report by Nicole Winfield said: “It appeared the Vatican may have chosen as speakers precisely those cardinals whose own national churches have not confronted the scandal openly. On the summit’s opening day, for example, the keynote speaker was Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle. Based on public reporting and criminal prosecutions, BishopsAccountability says it appears that no priests sexually abuse children in the Philippines, a scenario Barrett Doyle calls patently unrealistic.”

Doyle has stressed that “canon law has to be changed, not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritizing the priesthood … over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted.”

And with Pope Francis’ call for more concrete and effective measures, the full force of the state ought to be utilized against clergymen involved in sexual abuse. Indeed, concrete action is needed, more than Tagle’s tears, if Catholicism is to be rejuvenated in the Philippines.