The Papacy or else!

“Your Eminence, you’re looking good.” — US President George W. Bush to Pope Benedict XVI, who should have been addressed as “Your Holiness.”

Filipino Catholics are celebrating the elevation of Manila Archbishop Antonio Luis Tagle to cardinal. He is now a prince of the Catholic Church, a rather pompous title for a truly unassuming servant of the Lord.

Cardinal Tagle is what the native clergy needs at the moment. He is a voice of humility and moderation in an organization that has turned strident and full of itself.

In a message before he was made cardinal, Tagle called on the local church to stop behaving like a “triumphalistic, know-it-all type of institution.” He encouraged his fellow clerics to become “a simpler witness to Jesus, meek and humble of heart.” Amen to that.

A man of the people — as bishop of Cavite, Tagle preferred to do his pastoral rounds unaccompanied by aides and using public transportation or his bike — he is aware of the temptations that go along with being a prince of the church.

“If I am not cautious, I might just believe it, and I might start demanding your offerings – of the best food, the best wine, money, cars, houses, adulation, submission! After all, I am God – hah! I might take so much delight in my stature and its benefits that I might end up being callous to the needs of the poor and the earth.”

Tagle is not a political player, has no interest in becoming one, unlike some of his colleagues who used their position and power to support certain politicians. I will not go as far as saying that some bishops gave political support in exchange for SUVs and cash gifts but I would ask why brand new SUVs and cash were vital and necessary to the job of spreading God’s word and administering to the spiritual needs of His flock.

Furthermore, Tagle knows his place in God’s scheme of things.

“I am disturbed when some people who do not even know me personally conclude that my being a bishop automatically makes me closer to God than they could ever be. My words are God’s words! My desires are God’s desires! My anger is God’s anger! My actions are God’s actions!”

Those qualities, in addition to his brilliance and wisdom, makes Archbishop Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle the perfect successor to lead one of the most powerful and richest organizations in God’s creation.

In the near future, Europeans will no longer dominate the Catholic Church. There are more and more non-European cardinals who can elect Popes. We are happy that a Filipino will be among those who will choose Benedict’s successor. But should we be content with having a mere vote?

We have had a vote since Archbishop Rufino Cardinal Santos was made cardinal generations ago. How many cardinals have we had since? Six, seven? What we want is the papacy. Our time has come and we have a perfect man for the job.

We are the largest Catholic country in Asia. At least 80 million Catholics and counting. Our churches are filled on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and our devotion to saints remains as fervent as ever. We are the only remaining Catholic country that has not gone against Church teaching on artificial contraception, divorce, and same-sex marriage.

Most important of all, because the Catholic Church has material needs to meet, the Philippine Catholic Church is one of the biggest contributors to the Vatican’s coffers.

The contributions do not only come from Filipinos in the Philippines. How many churches in Europe would close down if not for our OFWs’ (overseas Filipino workers’) continued patronage? The Church might have to retrench many of its officials and sell many of its valuable assets – -real estate and priceless treasures – -if not for the weekly donations from ordinary Filipinos here and abroad. And we’ve not even mentioned the bequests of rich Filipinos.

We are good for the Church. The Church would be hard put if we were to turn away like those overly secularized cash-strapped westerners. We are a power in the Church. We can and must exercise that power. For the good of the Church, of course.

Consequently, the Filipino Catholic’s message, no, irrevocable demand, to the Catholic hierarchy must be: Archbishop Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle becomes the next Pope or else!

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph).

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