The smartest guy in the room

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the UK is justly considered historic and a success. He pulled off a cogent and reasoned position of the Church amongst various issues, particularly on the role of religion in public life. Unfortunately, the visit also highlighted the rising struggle among those who seek to rid religion in all spheres of public discourse, including science and politics. What’s disconcerting is how many Catholics, a substantial number of Filipino Catholics included, actually welcomed the attacks being done against the Church. They act in error.

The significance of the Pope’s visit should be placed within the context of two things. The first is Stephen Hawking’s recent pronouncement that God is unnecessary as physics seem to be able to explain a universe that could come into being and exist without Him. The second is the ongoing dilemma of child abuse allegations.

Regarding the first, the conflict is more apparent than real. The Church never opposed science and many scientific endeavors actually have been undertaken because of the Church’s support. And the Church never claimed the Bible to be a scientific treatise. Obviously, Jesus was not making a scientific pronouncement on whether lilies grow in fields (they don’t) or whether the mustard seed is indeed the smallest seed (it’s not). Laying aside differences that inevitably arise from translation (from the original Aramaic or Greek to Latin or English), the Bible is read from the spiritual view and definitely read within the living tradition of the Church, which takes cognizance of scientific developments. The point is that faith, science, and even politics can and should get along. Pope Benedict put it more directly in his address at Westminster Abbey: “[faith and reason] need one another.” Having said that, Hawking would actually be making logic’s equivalent of a leap of faith if he indeed made the absurd claim that mathematical calculations can determine how God thinks or how He spends His time.

As to the child abuse allegations, this is indeed unfortunate and Pope Benedict has expressed “sorrow” for such “filth” (his words). To claim that the Church is evil or engaged in a cover-up (the Pope included) is downright wrong. The Church has no power to imprison priests who abused children. That was the purview of secular governments, which could have prosecuted, arrested, and imprisoned those responsible. They haven’t and one wonders why such is not being questioned by the media.

The Church certainly did all it could within its authority under existing canon law, including relieving any of the priests that were charged with such heinous acts. Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, never had the mandate to punish abusive priests. His office at the time dealt only on doctrinal issues. To say that the Church engaged in cover-ups is misleading – the Church, refusing to indulge today’s tabloid culture, simply believes in proceeding in a restrained and discreet manner.

Child abuse is really a serious problem. From the Boy Scouts, to the military, the academe, to families (particularly with regard to incest), and other religions, the struggle to deal with this continues. The Church is certainly not alone in having this problem but it’s also equally certain that it has met this issue head on.

The Church never claimed to be pure. It openly acknowledges it is populated by very human sinners (and if you’ve read the history of our Church you’d know it has had some incredibly unbelievable sinners, including some really crazy popes). One should remember that “Church” is not limited to bishops and priests but includes you and me. Also important: at every Sunday mass we profess to believe “in the holy Catholic Church”. This has two significant points: since we declared that we believe in the Church, to then attack it is ridiculous; finally, the Church is not “holy” because of priests or us but because God willed it to be holy. No amount of pervert priests (or sinners like us) will render the Church not holy; it is holy not through our efforts but because of God’s sanctification of it (see Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Finally, we should all be so thankful that at this crucial time in the Church’s history we’ve been blessed with Pope Benedict XVI. Rarely has the papacy had a man of immense intellectual gifts. Experts are almost unanimous in saying that, particularly had Joseph Ratzinger been left alone to write, he is perhaps the greatest theologian of the past 100 years. Writer David Gibson would call him “the smartest man in the room.” Hawking, Dawkins, or Hitchens? On pure brainpower, I’d put my money on Benedict.

So, although it’s indeed fashionable now for a substantial number of Filipinos to support stupidity and incompetence, we should at least make an exception for Pope Benedict XVI. Let’s support and pray for God’s chosen instrument to lead our faith.