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Celdran, the Church, and the Whole Damaso Brouhaha

The other day, Carlos Celdran was put in jail for offending the Catholic Church. While it may come as a surprise that one single person can, indeed, offend an entity like the Church of the Philippines, please take into consideration that this is the Philippines we’re talking about, and in this country, Philippine rabbits turn turtles.


On the one hand, the Church is showing that it is, in fact, far from a forgiving institution. This won’t be the first piece of news this month that demonstrates just how much you can’t trust any entity being controlled by a person; last week, a Catholic hospital in the US defended itself from malpractice by stating that life does not begin with the fetus. Then, in a country where letting bygones be bygones is abused to the nth degree, we have Celdran’s case.

The fact is that we all offend religious feeling every day, whether we know it or not. It just so happens that we’re not offending a reigning religious institution. Look at all those anti-Muslim jokes. How do you frighten Muslim rebels? Coat your bullets in pig’s blood. Watch out for that Muslim, he might kidnap you and sell your blood. In fact, that latter joke isn’t even properly attributed, since people usually refer to Sikhs when trying to frighten their children to behave, lest the “Muslim” guy with the turban were to kidnap him.

I think what we’re looking at here is a good example of the empowerment rule. Any sufficiently powerful group influencing a large section of society will, as a rule, be thin-skinned and unable to take criticism with a straight face. Since the Moslems and the Sikhs are a minority in this country, we don’t see them taking offense to religious insults. Piss on the bushes outside of a Catholic church, though, and you’re a vandal.

But don’t get me wrong. Celdran deserves what he’s getting, since laws do exist to protect every aspect of today’s Philippine society. This article gives one an idea of why that is. He was probably well aware of what could happen to him when he decided to pull the Damaso. So to say that this is a sad day for Catholic Pinoys is stupid; it’s an indication that the laws are moving, even against popular / influential people like Celdran. Is it unfortunate? Yes, it is very unfortunate. But is it wrong? No, I don’t think so.

The Get Real! article I linked to sums up the limitation of free speech, which is actually interesting to note, but will be a topic for another post. The bottom line here is that while his intentions were pure and good, there were proper avenues for staging something like what he did. Insurgents, radicals, and creatives will always find a way to break those rules, true, and it is well within their craft and ability to express themselves to do so, but once the person offends somebody else, there will always be proper repercussions.

Should Celdran be forgiven? Yes, definitely. I believe that the Church, as an Institution, should do what it preaches: forgive. But should Celdran get away from this scot-free? No, I don’t believe he should. Forgiveness does not remove the fact that Celdran could have offended, if not the Church, the possibly innocent people who were at the service during the time. If I were eating lechon with my friends at home, and a vegan neighbor decides to drop in and preach about the negative aspects of eating meat, I will most likely throw him out.

Does this mean that I think the (possibly) year-long sentence for Celdran bears merit? Again, I think not. Some people are saying that a fine or community service would have been enough. I’m tempted to agree except for two things:

  1. Celdran would probably be able to afford whatever fine the government puts on him, and
  2. Celdran conducts historical tours for a living. He lives and breathes public service.

Minimal jail time for a bailable offense seems reasonable for me. But if he gets the maximum sentence for this, well, then we all know how that happened.

In closing: while the Church is showing just how fickle it can be even when conforming to its own rules, I think it’s a lesson for people on either side of the fence. The first lesson is that if you stand up and protect yourself for what you believe is right, somebody will always find you either laughable, absurd, or stupid. But on the other hand, the other lesson is that one shouldn’t insult others, under any circumstance. The person being insulted will always have the right AND the choice to get back at you.


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