Q & A on The Making of The Pastoral Statement of 10 July 2005
A: On August 10, the historic CBCP Pastoral Statement, entitled “Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values in Philippine Politics”, issued July 10, 2005, will have been one month old. Yet, the controversial statement continues to draw varied reactions from the public. Some view it as a “pro-GMA” move; others laud it as a masterstroke coming from the country’s spiritual leaders. What really went on during its drafting? How did 85 bishops coming from various places and persuasions findally decide on what to say as a body? CBCP President Archbishop Fernando R. Capalla takes us behind the scenes as he answers questions from media.
Q: The CBCP Pastoral Statement of July 10, 2005, was a much awaited document in view of the country’s political situation then. Can you tell us something about the public’s reaction to that Statement?
A: In my 30 years as bishop and active member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, I have never seen a CBCP Pastoral Statement so closely scrutinized and analyzed, widely disseminated, profusely lauded and commented on as that one. A cross section of society—rich and poor, government and non-government personalities, professional and non-professional, Christians and Muslims, religious and non-religious, even the left-leaning Bayan, KMM, Karapatan, CNL—have registered their reactions, mostly positive, to that 3-page document. It’s nearly a month now, and headlines are focusing on different issues, but we are still receiving kudos for it.
Q: Some quarters claim that the document, although it contains nothing new, and to some it was even a disappointment, was historic. Do you agree with this?
A: In a way, yes. Actually, the main content of the Statement is nothing really new. They have been part of the ordinary teaching of the Church for many many years. In fact, our conference has already issued in the not-too-distant past a Pastoral Letter entitled Church and Politics. What made this recent Episcopal document apparently historic and memorable was the occasion that motivated it. As bishops we were confronted by the recent political crisis and the social turmoil it was, and still is, generating. The entire nation was expecting the bishops to speak out and the pressures were mounting as our Statement was being awaited.
Q: We understand there were 85 bishops present then, a good number if we may say so. How did you manage, under so much clamor from the public, to pull it together?
A: Yes, almost all active bishops were there, with the exception of a few who had previous commitments. It is not possible or necessary to retrace step by step how I presided over the assembly of 85 bishops and led them through serious discussions towards a consensus. It was a long process that started at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, before the Plenary Assembly opened. The Permanent Council and the chairmen of the different commissions met then to review important matters taken in the previous general assembly and to finalize the agenda for the present plenary. When 12 council members and 30 chairmen had gathered, I suggested that—since the times were abnormal—we dispense with the minutes of the previous meeting as well as with the plenary agenda, and start discussing the present situation instead. They all agreed.
Q: You mean the bishops were really aware that issuing a statement then was of paramount concern, even if they had been on closed retreat for days?
A. Of course. All of us were aware of what was happening outside. We knew, too, that time was of the essence, and that we had to make a statement before anarchy could erupt in the streets. Even days before the assembly I had been hounded by media already, demanding both my personal opinion and a CBCP statement on the political situation. We were so concerned that we had to make a change in our evening schedule. With so many items on the agenda omitted, we even agreed to advance the session on the political situation from Saturday to Thursday. So I assigned Archbishop Quevedo and Archbishop Legazpi to compose the drafting committee with the help of Bishop Tagle and Bishop Odchimar. Before the formal opening of the Plenary Assembly, the first draft of the Statement was ready. It is true that the Statement had to go through four drafts. Through all these there were important moments that led to that eventful afternoon of July 10 when these 85 bishops spoke with one voice to a nation anxiously looking for immediate guidance—I’m referring to the press conference when the CBCP finally came out in public with a stand, when we opened the session hall to over a hundred media people who would convey our statement to millions of our countrymen here and abroad. I am of the firm conviction that God’s gentle spirit was at work in the minds and hearts of my brother-bishops during those days.
Q: How did the bishops prepare for that session? Were they armed with data from research?
A: We must not forget that we are priests, first and foremost. Although the burning issue at hand was political, we do not approach it the way politicians or ordinary lay people do. And it’s not fair for the public or anyone to pressure us into “making a political stand.” So I must say, for the record, that I attribute the success of our deliberation to the 3-day Holy Retreat that preceded our Plenary Assembly, CBCP’s 91st which was held at the Pius XII Catholic Center. Those were three grace-filled days with the Lord. It was such a precious time when we bishops could all be together, devoting ourselves to daily mass, liturgy of the hours prayed in common, meditative talks on the Eucharist and daily Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. The retreat prepared and strengthened us We listened to experts. Three Jesuit priests spoke to us: Fr. Jose Magadia on the state of the economy, Fr. Joaquin Bernas on the legal aspects of the burning issues, and Fr. Daniel Huang on the moral choices. Contrary to later reports, we did not invite any other resource persons.
Q: Would you say the bishops were adequately informed prior to the deliberations?
A: Some of us were better informed about the political situation than the others, but I cannot claim that the information we had was absolutely true. As you may observe, much is clouded or distorted in media coverage. The bishops had their own personal observations to begin with, and by text messaging from friends and other contacts “outside” many bishops were further updated on some aspects of the political crisis. During our deliberation, the observations of the bishops from the countryside also proved to be an invaluable addition to our existing knowledge. If you will notice, our fellow Filipinos outside of the key cities are hardly heard from in media; so we depended on the bishops to convey to us what their people felt about the prevailing situation. Then we had an open forum which also helped us to deepen our understanding of the situation. By the afternoon of July 8, eve of the Plenary Assembly, we were ready to reflect and discuss what we must do.
Q: Shortly after the CBCP Statement was released, certain news items also said that the statement was watered down due to the “tongue-lashing” that the bishops got from the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Franco. Could the bishops have taken a stronger stand for or against PGMA had the Papal Nuncio not intervened?
A: Allow me to correct that false assumption. Banking on a so-called “expose” that the Papal Nuncio had given the bishops a “tongue-lashing” before the assembly began, many news reports claimed that the Nuncio’s speech influenced the bishops to take a soft stand on the political question. This is not true. The Papal Nuncio’s address, which was the first item in the opening ceremony, was simply a confirmation and an additional reminder on the roles of the bishops and laity in political affairs as contained in conciliar and papal documents. The reference to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI was not even in the Nuncio’s address. It was in the short version of the statement by Archbishop Legazpi. I saw the need of putting it in the final draft, thus I privately requested Cardinal Vidal to make a motion to that effect—which was accepted.
Q: So the Statement was purely the product of the bishops’ deliberation? Was it really that agonizing, as the news reports said? We’d be interested to know how 85 bishops finally agreed on one statement.
A. Well, that Statement underwent close scrutiny to say the least. It is also of great importance to note, for historical reasons, that the draft which went into a third version, was finely dissected line by line and paragraph by paragraph by the assembly of 85 bishops. We had to be careful in our choice of words, for obvious reasons. For instance, the choice between the verbal expressions “cannot demand her resignation” and “do not demand her resignation” took some time to agree on. So with “options demanded by the Gospel” and “options that are not against the Gospel.” In general, the process was smooth and orderly. Contrary to media reports we did not “agonize on the deliberations” because all along we were very much aware that we were addressing the issues and the crises from “who we are”—and we are bishops, pastors, moral guides.
Q: If you had to be that careful, did that mean back-breaking seriousness?
A: Of course, there were lighter moments during our sessions, too. Human as we are, the bishops knew how to handle difficult or delicate situations with serenity and a sense of humor. During coffee breaks and mealtimes we had many opportunities to update one another, to talk about other things than the gospel or politics. We would laugh and tell jokes, even. But the most enjoyable moment was the dinner with the Nuncio in his residence. He gamely acted as our emcee, and we interspersed our meal with singing by groups according to age bracket—the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Even our 83-year old Bishop Mondejar contributed a number. It was fun, a refreshing evening for all of us.
Q: That’s nice, but let’s go back to the assembly hall. It’s a fact that prior to the plenary assembly, some bishops had been openly anti-GMA. Did this not adversely affect the process? How did you handle those bishops, considering that you yourself have been viewed by media as being pro-GMA?
A: Media, for all its power to gather and disseminate information, can only come up with part of the truth. As the wise would say, don’t believe everything you read in the papers. Some bishops may have causes to fight, and if they find friends in the media who will support them, well and good. If bishops seem very vocal about being anti-GMA or anti-administration as the news say, they must have very good reasons for taking their stand, so let’s listen to them. But no, I did not find the need to “handle” them because in the assembly hall where all of us gather, we come as bishops—pastors, not mere voters. And when we speak of truth, we mean Gospel truth; that’s the bottom line. No matter our political color, once we are asked by circumstances to speak as one, we do not forget that we are pastors, men consecrated to proclaim the Truth, and the Truth we proclaim is the Truth of Christ.
Q: Do you mean to say that those bishops did not even care to air their side? And you, too, did not find the need to defend your own stand?
A: As I said, we listen to everybody. In fact, a bishop counted 120 interventions all in all. “Those bishops” naturally spoke up, and so did the others practically unknown to media but who had very relevant inputs which, I surmise, contributed vitally to the completion of the picture. I told you earlier that I attribute the success of our assembly to our three-day closed retreat. It did us a lot of good, giving us time to reflect. All of us emerged from that more enlightened than when we came, more open-minded, more receptive to the proddings of the Holy Spirit. All of us approved that Statement, we were one, as you may have seen in the photographs subsequently published of that gathering. As for the allegations that I am “pro-GMA,” you will have to interview me again as that will be another long story.
Q: Which then would you say was the most difficult moment during the deliberation and drafting of the statement?
A: The most crucial moment was when we discussed Paragraphs 7 and 8. First, we had to agree that there were conflicting opinions and positions regarding the President, and that our role was not to point out one or the other as the Gospel choice because they were either speculative in nature or grounded on controvertible basis. Second, we agreed that no single concrete option regarding President Arroyo could claim to be the only one demanded by the Gospel. Third, we concluded by saying “Therefore, in a spirit if humility and truth, we declare our prayerfully discerned collective decision that we do not demand her resignation. Yet neither do we encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others. For we recognize that non-violent appeals for her resignation, the demand for a Truth Commission and the filing of an impeachment case are not against the Gospel.”
Q: There were criticisms leveled later on at CBCP for proposing the formation of a Truth Commission. Could you please comment on this?
A: First of all, we did not propose the formation of Truth Commission. In reacting to the Pastoral Statement later, some people—including newspaper readers and commentators and columnists—would conclude that the bishops were giving a “formula” like the Truth Commission first, then the impeachment. This is not correct. Again this is a case of miscommunication. After the Statement was released, media chased the bishops for comments and “inside stories”. Reporters were generally very open to any bishop (or anyone in a cassock for that matter) who would talk, because anything they said could be news then. So the impression (or misimpression) created was, the CBCP “formula” was Truth Commission and then Impeachment. This is completely erroneous. In fact, on July 19, from Lucena City where I was having a meeting with 200 coconut farmers, I would answer by text through the CBCP Media Office that “while we respect the government’s choice of this option (Truth Commission), we could not at the moment comment on its viability.” For the record, again, let me say that nowhere in our statement do we “propose” these. We merely cite them as being among the several options of the people—not our own because we do not have one—“that are not against the Gospel.”
Q: In the Statement, the bishops seem to delegate to the laity the responsibility of choosing from these options “that are not against the gospel.” Is this impression correct?
A: Very much so, but we bishops do have our distinct responsibility, too, and this is contained in that Statement as well. Since we leave it to the people to choose their options we felt we could not just stop there. So we decided to offer moral guidelines which they must observe while pursuing their options within the parameters of the Constitution. By “people” we refer not only to those in government service but also to our lay people in the different Church organizations. And we suggested that they do this through discernment and dialogue, which means they have to “come and pray together, reason, decide and act together…” This is the second most important point in the Statement: that political issues and affairs are the responsibility of the lay people, not of the bishops. And then, to help our people to deepen their “moral discernment” we offered moral guidelines (nos. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) on specific subjects like accountability, constitutionality, non-violence, and effective governance without excluding ourselves.
Q: That whole process took all of two days?
A: Two and a half, which, on hindsight, was swift, considering our limitations and the pressures upon us. To speed up the process of deliberating and owning each important issue or point and paragraph, I decided to put to vote right then and there each of these; that minimized the work of the drafting committee. We finished everything by 12:30 that Sunday noon of July 10. After lunch and a little siesta we returned to the assembly hall to hear the reading of Archbishop Quevedo of the final and polished draft.
Q: There were no more objections entertained to that final draft?
A: No more. In fact, it was met with thunderous applause—unanimous approval, no objection, no abstentions. The last crucial question was to decide what time to hold the press conference and where. To allow our media office to inform the reporters and journalists and to prepare copies for them and the bishops, we decided to hold it at 4:00 PM. I suggested to hold it in the assembly hall with everyone in attendance. I told the bishops that the presence of the 85 members will reinforce the message of our Statement, since it would clearly show the unity and solidarity in the bishops’ conference. The suggestion was loudly approved. The rest is history.
+ FERNANDO R. CAPALLA, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference
August 7, 2005