Relevance, not ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ is the real problem
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-05-24
PERHAPS nothing can be “more popish than the Pope” than when political figures try to assume the robes of the spiritual leader of the flock. This was what was communicated by the many eyebrows raised upon the City Council of Manila’s decision to ban the film “The Da Vinci Code” from showing in any of its movie houses.
Just who do the Manila city councilors think they are and just what exactly do they think they are doing?

Do they now assume to be “Defenders of the Faith,” in the way that King Henry VIII of England once fancied himself to be? Well, in the end the “Defender of the Faith” turned out to be just another royal fornicator who broke ties with the Vatican to establish the Church of England. The English monarch needed the Church of England to deal a semblance of “acceptability” for his insatiable libido and quest to produce a male heir.

I can at least understand why Henry VIII so desperately needed to produce a male successor. His father, Henry VII of the House of Tudor, emerged the victor from the bitter War of the Roses that pitted the Houses of York and Lancaster. The War of the Roses was finally decided on the battlefield of Bosworth when Henry Tudor (then better known as the Earl of Richmond) defeated the forces of King Richard III. Henry VIII feared the real danger of another civil war erupting if he fails to sire a male heir.

By some twist of fate and poetic irony, Henry VIII did not pass his throne on to a male heir but to his two daughters from different mothers. Elizabeth I, the second Tudor daughter to rule after Henry VIII, became the monarch that started what was to become the British Empire.

But in the case of the Manila City Council, we cannot see a semblance of justification for their banning of “The Da Vinci Code” from all Manila theatres. How can anyone justify that ban when the Catholic Church itself and the Opus Dei wanted to allow the film’s exhibition?

The Catholic Church and the Opus Dei should be the ones to raise a howl since the film’s storyline (and the Dan Brown novel) had cast both the Opus Dei and the Vatican as sinister Catholic organizations.

Regardless of whether it was simply maturity or plain common sense that prodded the Catholic Church to adopt that position, still the decision deserves praise. In the old days, by just thinking of writing a book like “The Da Vinci Code” would have subjected one to the prescriptions of the Inquisition. The leader of the Catholic charismatic group El Shaddai, Brother Mike Velarde, with all of his hanky-waving practices, would have been subjected to the coals beneath the stretch rack for what constituted during that period as acts of heresy.

I do believe that films like “The Da Vinci Code” tend to do Christianity an unwitting service rather than cause the Christian Flock to lose faith. To a Christian whose faith is solidly founded, movies like “The Da Vinci Code” will not dent their core beliefs but reinforce it. On the other hand, to a Christian whose faith is shaky -- even a Tom and Jerry cartoon (which is known for its violent content) can unhinge what is already adrift.

Both the Catholic Church and the Opus Dei knew that attempting to ban the movie would only further promote it and the result of that ban would make them look like they do have something to hide. It would have conjured images of the days of the Inquisition when the Church was feared more than it was revered. Banning it would have been a PR disaster for both the Catholic Church and the Opus Dei. Instead of discrediting the Dan Brown fiction, the ban would have given it the credibility of the persecuted.

Relevance -- and not films like The Da Vinci Code -- is the real problem facing the Catholic Church today. There are less Catholics who are inclined to become priests and nuns. The Born-Again groups have attracted many Catholics to their fold. Church influence is decreasing, especially among the young.

Here in our country, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) cannot even take a united stand on how to handle the scandalous issues surrounding Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the exploitation, human rights abuses and manipulations that is an everyday occurrence in government. The inequities in our society have been with us for decades and yet to this day the Catholic Church has been unable to inspire reform.

Save for that period when we were fortunate to have one church leader named Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Catholic Church as an institution has never seriously challenged the status quo. Lack of values plagues Philippine society and that can only reflect on the failure of the Catholic Church to fulfill its mission.

Philippine Catholicism is more of ritual and less of practice. Some of the biggest plunderers and fornicators of our society are seen attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion. What ever happened to the required state of grace before one is to receive the body of Christ?

Instead, what we see is a state of utter disgrace. The poor increase in number and become even poorer. The rich get richer and the upper class becomes more exclusive than ever. Those who run the government become greedier -- plundering more from a country where the poor can hardly eat a substantial meal each day. This country which prides itself as the only Christian bastion in Asia is also rated as one of the most corrupt and one of the biggest violators of human rights.

Christ said: “Whatsoever you do to the least of your brethren, you do unto me.” Yet, avowed Christians as they are, our elite and traditional politicians remain insensitive to the needs of the least of their brethren and only continue to help themselves.

You may e-mail William M. Esposo at:

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