Batuhan: Games and spectacles

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By Allan S. B. Batuhan

Foreign Exchange

Friday, March 1, 2013

SINCE yesterday, March 1, 2013, we entered a period like no other in history. Well, at least not in recent living memory, or even living memory twice and thrice over.

That’s because from this date, the “sede vacante” period begins in the universal Catholic Church. The period marks the time that one pope has vacated the papal office, and before one is elected in his place. In Latin, it means the chair (of St. Peter) is vacant—which it is, for now.

The vacancy itself, however, is not what makes this period so unique.


Between the papacies of their Holiness Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI was also the same period. However, what makes this one distinct is that almost all “sede vacantes” include a period of mourning for the outgoing pope, while this one does not.

The outgoing pope is still very much with us on this earth, as opposed to his predecessor, who had already joined the very first occupant of the chair, in the next.

This is what appears to have thrown the world into disarray, or at least this is what the secular press would have us believe.

What to make, for example, of news stories from even the major wire services attaching labels of “scandal-tainted” and “problematic” whenever they are describing the papacy?

How to interpret stories focusing on the cleric sex abuse scandals in the United States rearing their ugly head, just as the search for a new pope begins? And what of the constant insinuations that two popes—one present and one past, would cause chaos in the Vatican and the Church?

The truth is, of course, that most of these concerns are imagined, rather than real.

The issues being raised now are not really any different, nor more or less intense, than what normally come up whenever there is a change of leadership in secular institutions. Because of the power of the press in their societies, these often raucous and rowdy pre-election periods where endless speculation and insinuation reign often tend to be associated with the West—especially in Europe and the Americas. No small wonder that the very same shrill and high-pitched voices now screaming during this “sede vacante” period are also from there.

And what’s all the screaming about?

Supposedly, calls for reform in the church. And what reforms? Transparency.

Liberalization. And then on specific hot button issues. Abortion. Contraception. Same-sex marriage. Ordination of women. And the list goes on.

The thing is, of course, that these calls tend to be mostly self-serving, made by those who would stand to benefit from their adoption. And many are lifted from the secular context, without regard to how they would fit in a religious setting.

For example, when Christ chose Peter to be the first pope, few secularists would probably claim that it was a transparent and liberal process. But the faithful trust that it was an inspired one, because it was Jesus himself who did the selection. And so it goes with the election of contemporary popes. No matter what the outside world sees (or does not see) there is divine guidance going on, and this trumps all the transparency and liberalization that the process could possibly be enhanced with.

As for the hot button issues, they will really just be that – hot buttons that will never be touched by the Church, for the very reason that they are contrary to its own beliefs. Even secular institutions have values and beliefs they will not compromise, even when it seems to fly in the face of reason, to outsiders looking in. For example, the constitutional right to bear arms in the United States seems to many to be as nonsensical and absurd as any value could ever be. But, too bad, that is what the US believes, and there is nothing any outsider could do about that.

I am not, for the moment, equating the idea of bearing arms with many of the uncompromising and lofty values and ideals of the Church, but I think you get the point.

For what is being attacked, and being asked to be watered down are the core values of our being Church, and compromising them would sooner render us like a civil society or association where anything goes, so long as it pleases the most, and displeases the least.

But if that is what Jesus had intended when he founded the Church, then he needn’t have bothered. After all, the Romans and the secular authorities of the time—through their gladiatorial games and pagan feasts and spectacles—and were already doing a good job at it.

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 02, 2013.


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