Some American news papers are taking quotes by Pope Francis out of context to criticize those few bishops who dare to say abortion is murder, or for supporting the idea of traditional marriage that have been around for a few millenia.

Like most of what the pope says, this is cherry picking quotes out of context, ignoring what he has said elsewhere, and of course, misinterpreting what he meant.

A lot of people don’t realize that the background of Pope Francis is not Chicago, but the slums of South America. And the cultural problems faced by the church are not political wars between the right and the left, but very basic things that Americans, who live in a culture of Anglo Saxon Protestants, do not face: in one word, corruption.

So the Pope is starting with the basics: The first commandment: To put God first in your life, by getting a personal relationship with the deity, and then reevalute your actions in the light of this relationship.

This has upset a lot of European and American Catholics who take the institutional church seriously, since it seems to criticize bishops who take stand on local moral issues. But given the disdain of the average American for their weak and bad bishops, it is a good place to start. I mean, if you are a bishop and have a personal relationship with a deity, it might be hard to explain to him/her/it why you let Father So and So mistreat boys, or looked the other way when someone stole from the collection basket.
Seeing the institution as more important than our personal relationship to the deity distorts the church into merely another political institution. Any institution faces the danger of corruption, and then covering up the corruption “for the good of the church” or for the good of the institution involved, be it government agencies, or big business or banking scandals where someone accidentally “loses” a couple million dollars.

In the third world, however, the problem of corruption is much more entrenched and much more serious. A local Filipino wag quipped that here bribes are taken “on the table, under the table, and with the table”.

Here, you can get shot for being a whistleblower.

So much for our good Christian politicians…and it’s actually worse in the Muslim South.

So right now, the latest scandal in the Philippines is that some politicians used fake NGO’s to skim off money into their pocket.


I suspect those pushing the culture wars here will take their cue from the US press and use the Pope’s words to push Obama’s their agenda of population control and making marriage a worthless piece of paper through easy divorce and redefining it as for “two people in love”.

But most people here in the provinces consider the culture war as just another scam for the rich families to make money.

To see the problem through the eyes of a cynic, let’s examine the new “RH bill” that orders hospitals to give out free birth control pills, and will fine doctors and midwives if they criticize the program. Sounds good, right? Well…A lot of us who would actually support an RH bill that paid for midwives and child/maternal health programs (free midwives in every town, who don’t insist on being given a gift to deliver your baby would help). But instead we have a bill that funds pushing free birth control.  Period.

Yet the outsiders and Manila elites behind the bill are quite naive about how a lot of us think the bill will become just another pork barrel project for local politicians.

Expect photo ops with Catholic bishops saying the politician supports church policy (but can’t go against the law of the land). Oh yes, and bishop, remember I support you against population control, so just ignore the local casino I just put into my province, the money I am pocketing from development funding, and those spontaneous murders by someone against my political rivals.

Let me count the ways it could make the politicians rich.

First; officials could over-order the pill for the government run clinics, paying higher than normal prices so someone can make a huge profit, and then the unneeded pills could just stored in a warehouse until the date expires, or even claim that the medicine was out of stock or lost, and sell it on the side.

Sounds crazy, no? Yet this is what was done when rice was imported a couple years ago after a typhoon destroyed a lot of the local harvest.

Another possible scam: Smuggling cheap pills from China, and then selling them at full price to the local clinics, and pocketing the profit. All you have to do is substitute cheap counterfeit pills to the government clinics as the real thing. Everyone on the “food chain” benefits from this scam.

Counterfeit medicines here are a major problem.

Yes, we have inspectors, but they are overworked.And of course, inspectors can’t check every item that is imported. Here in the Philippines, you have to be careful what you buy and where you but it: or you find you have bought something that falls apart in a few months, even though a similar product in the USA would last for years.

I won’t even get into the scams where the fake medicines and foodstuffs have chemicals added so that the testing doesn’t pick it up. This is what happened with the milk scandal, the heparin scandal, tainted skin whitener, the dog food scandal, etc.

So the Pope’s emphasis on personally living an ethical lifehas a different meaning in poor countries where corrupt politicians are the norm, and many of them routinely try to “co opt” the Bishop’s support to be elected.

Family anecdote: a former mayor of our town arranged a hit on his rival, and our nephew was killed in the crossfire.

This was known to everyone, but due to the Philippine law against libel, no one could openly accuse him.

They mayor, however, was a “good Catholic”, so during the local fiesta he sat in front of the church when the bishop said mass.

During the collection, when people take their gifts to the front of the church, our cousin Chona spotted him, went over and shook her fist in his face, saying “you…YOU!”…

No, the bishop didn’t say anything then, but since that time, during election season, he holds a mass for all those running for office and asks them to sign a non violence pact.

Well, it worked this year.

The new mayor, the ex mayor’s daughter, got in without any shooting.

The main witness against her father didn’t get shot at until a few weeks AFTER the elections.

So don’t say our politicians aren’t good Catholics.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.


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