New law points to Philippine church's waning sway

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 3, 2013 at 7:44 pm •  Published: January 3, 2013
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Three years after Aquino's father, Benigno Aquino Sr., a senator opposing Marcos, was gunned down on the Manila airport tarmac in 1983, Sin persuaded Aquino's widow, Corazon, to run for president. When massive election cheating by Marcos was exposed, Sin went on Catholic-run Radio Veritas in February 1986 to summon millions of people to support military defectors and the Aquino-led opposition. Marcos fled and Aquino, a deeply religious woman, was sworn in as president.

Democracy was restored, but the country remained chaotic and mired in nearly a dozen coup attempts. The economy stalled, poverty persisted and the jobless were leaving in droves for better-paying jobs abroad as maids, teachers, nurses and engineers. After Aquino stepped down, the country elected its first and only Protestant president, Fidel Ramos. He, too, opposed the church on contraceptives and released state funds for family planning methods.

Catholic bishops pulled out all the stops in campaigning against Ramos' successor, popular movie actor Joseph Estrada, a hero of the impoverished masses who made little attempt to keep down his reputation for womanizing, drinking and gambling.

But few heeded the church's advice. Estrada was elected with the largest victory margin in Philippine history. Halfway through his six-year presidency, in January 2001, he was confronted with another "people power" revolt, backed by political opponents and the military, and was forced to resign.

His successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, styled herself as a devout Catholic and sought to placate the church by abolishing the death penalty and putting brakes on the contraceptives law, which languished in Congress during her nine years in power.

It mattered little. Arroyo's mismanagement and corruption scandals set the stage for Aquino's election on a promise to rid the Philippines of graft, fix the economy and lift millions out of poverty. The scion of the country's democracy icon took power several years after Sin's death, but it was a different era in which the church was battered by scandals of sexual misconduct of priests and declining family values.

The latest defeat of the church "can further weaken its moral authority at a time when this is most badly needed in many areas, including defense of a whole range of family values," said the Rev. John J. Carroll, founding chairman of the Jesuit-run John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues. He said he wondered how many Catholics have been "turned off" by incessant sermons and prayers led by the church against the contraceptives law, and how much it contributed to rising anticlericalism and the erosion of church authority.

"People today are more practical," said Labadan, the street vendor. "In the old days, people feared that if you defy the church, it will be the end of the world."

___

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.



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