Playing safe?

ARCHBISHOP Jose Palma, formerly of Palo, Leyte, took over the reins of power in the Archdiocese of Cebu in simple but colorful ceremonies attended by 70 archbishops and bishops, at least 800 diocesan and religious priests, 300 lay leaders, nuns, seminarians and about a thousand lay people.

After the installation rites, the first after 29 years to be witnessed by Cebuanos, the new prelate of the country’s oldest and largest ecclesiastical territory told the media that he will consult with his clergy and the people before issuing statements that are deemed controversial.

The prelate is known to be a vocal critic of the military, especially during the time of retired general Jovito Palparan in Samar. Human rights groups accused Palparan of human rights abuses and Archbishop Palma issued a pastoral letter condemning the alleged military excesses. He has since been viewed as and “activist prelate.”

This time, however, the archbishop seems to be playing it safe with “controversial” issues. When asked to comment about what he will do with the squabbling of local Cebu politicians, the prelate said he will follow the example of Cardinal Vidal.

“I think His Eminence did well in trying to promote peace,” he said, adding that he is willing to extend assistance and to “promote friendship, peace and understanding.” (Safe answer.)

On the reproductive health bill, Archbishop Palma said he will follow the direction of his predecessor. “We know His Eminence is passionate and is known for his stand. On my part, I can only follow his direction,” he said. (Again, a safe statement.)

Cardinal Vidal earlier said he is willing even to be jailed to defend the Church’s position against the use of artificial contraception. On this the new Cebu archbishop said: “We should admire the courage of the cardinal to take on controversial issues.”

On the issue of the issue of the proposed Charter change, he said: “I find it more helpful that every time I issue a pastoral letter I would like to consult with the clergy and the people. And, God willing, we will do that.”

We understand Archbishop Palma will have to first take the pulse of the people in his archdiocese before getting into controversies. It would be difficult for somebody new, especially in a place that has become so used to the “smiling diplomacy” of Cardinal Vidal, to rush into something.

People expect something new from Archbishop Palma. We also believe that he will not be just a clone of Cardinal Vidal. Although he said he will always consult the older prelate, he also said he is willing to make some changes. “After some time, if there is a need to change for the better, if there is a need to change programs then changes will be made,” he said.

For us in Manila, who think that the Church is only what the Catholic bishops’ conference or the Manila archbishop says, watching the politics and workings of the Church in Cebu is refreshing.

The Catholic Church is very much alive in those parts of the country, and although the new archbishop seems to be playing it safe, we expect to hear more of him in the coming days.

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