Vatican pressured CBCP to back off Arroyo resign call: WikiLeaks

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Sep 05 2011 08:59 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2011 06:56 AM


Holy See official saw Cardinal Sin as 'obstacle'

MANILA, Philippines - The Vatican pressured the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) not to support protests calling for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005, a US embassy cable released by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks revealed.

Confidential cable 05VATICAN500 said Monsignor Luis Montemayor, Holy See Country Director for the Philippines, said through the Holy See's Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Antonio Franco, the Vatican pressured the CBCP to remain neutral in the "Hello Garci" scandal in 2005.

"He  told us that although the Vatican's preferences on the matter had never been a secret, Franco had for the first time on July 9 explained in no uncertain terms to the CBCP that the Vatican did not support popular uprisings as a method to remove a government," said the July 15, 2007 cable sent by Brent Hardt, then deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires of the US Embassy to the Holy See.

Hardt quoted Montemayor as saying, "We put a lot of pressure on the bishops" not to support the protests calling for the president's resignation.

The Holy See Country Director for the Philippines also added that the Vatican "insisted that the bishops distinguish between pastoral care and political involvement," the cable said.

"Montemayor, a former Department IVP recipient who has  covered the Philippines since 2001, emphasized that he had always opposed Catholic clergy's involvement in popular uprisings against the government," the cable said.

Sin was 'obstacle' to Vatican?

Montemayor described the late Jaime Cardinal Sin as "a major obstacle," according to the memo.

"We didn't see eye to eye on the issue [of political involvement by the clergy]... Sin felt it was his moral responsibility towards the people to intervene," he told Hardt.

The late prelate affected the Holy See's influence over the bishops, but the CBCP began "hearing the Vatican's message" after he died, Montemayor reportedly told the US embassy official.

Hardt said Montemayor's comments jibed with US analysis. "[W]ith the death of Cardinal Sin, the current bishops are more amenable to instruction from the Vatican,"  he added.

A separate confidential cable sent July 12, 2005,  by Joseph Mussomeli, then deputy chief of mission and charge d'affaires at the US Embassy in Manila, said the death of Cardinal Sin saw the CBCP move seems to be moving towards pastoral matters instead of socio-political issues. 

"Cardinal Sin, who retired from office in 2003 and died on June 21 (ref E), was very much an activist in the political sphere:  he played a key role in the anti-Marcos movement in the 1980s, endorsed and denounced candidates for political office, made declarations on political issues, etc.," the cable said.

"Although Sin was close to John Paul II, especially on doctrinal matters, the Vatican was not fully comfortable with his political activities, according to contacts," it added. The Church at this point seems to be in a phase of "Sin-fatigue" and -- based on its July 10 statement -- seems very much open to advice from the Vatican on the need to keep out of politics in a direct way." 

The cable said Mussomeli had looked into reports that Franco scolded the bishops during their plenary assembly, which resulted in a pastoral statement dated July 9 that did not call for Arroyo's resignation.

Cruz denies Vatican pressure

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, meanwhile, denied Monday that the CBCP was pressured by the Vatican not to support ouster calls of Arroyo at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal.

Church newswire CBCP News quoted Cruz as saying that it is not the Vatican's policy to intervene in local socio-political issues.

"WikiLeaks has a lot of wonderful things but you don’t take it as hook, line and sinker," Cruz said.

"One should also be perceptive [in] reading it… most of them are perceptions. There’s no documentation etc, etc,” he said, referring to the embassy cable.

Cruz also denied that Franco scolded  the bishops during a plenary assembly over the Arroyo scandal.

"The Vatican has global concerns and I don’t think that it will involve itself in such a 'small thing' as Garci tapes,'" he told CBCP News.

"I can say for certainty because I was there all along… Vatican was not even mentioned. This is the first time I heard about that," he added. "In the July 2005 CBCP statement, the bishops did not demand Arroyo's resignation but said they also do not 'encourage her simply to dismiss such a call from others."