For a Church that moves at a takyong’s pace (context below), how meaningful a consultation can one do in just a few weeks? Not much, some priests have told me. From what I understand and from what several sources characterized it to me, what’s being done now is closer to an information drive than a consultation.
Today, Church leaders will hold the last of its district “consultations” for Sugbuswak, the name of the plan to break up the Archdiocese of Cebu. On November 14 to 16, the archdiocese will hold a General Pastoral Assembly that will tackle the issue. By January, the Archdiocese of Cebu will send the breakup proposal to the Vatican.
If you were to create a timeline of the break-up of the archdiocese, you will probably have as official starting point the 2002 Cebu Archdiocesan Priests’ Congress that recommended studying “the viability and practicality of partitioning the Archdiocese into three.” The next data point would probably be the 2004 study that retired Bishop Emilio Bataclan said he made upon the request of Cardinal Vidal.
After that would be a long straight line to signify that nothing was done on the proposal. Toward the end would be a frenzy of activities in 2023, the announcement of the move to break up the archdiocese, a quick study, presentation to and approval by the CBCP, a day of discernment-was-it-a-consultation in September, district consultations the weeks after, then GPA in November.
Church leaders have stressed that nothing is final.
But with the limited time, some questions are already out of consideration. For one, the request by some priests for a parallel study on keeping the Archdiocese as-is can no longer be accommodated. There’s simply no time. The Papal Nuncio has been following up, officials said. It is what the Vatican wants. Order sa Roma.
The scuttlebutt is that some priests are planning to write a letter to the nuncio and the Vatican. (Are you one of them, please send me a copy. I will never divulge your identity. Contact me here.)
Also out of the question now is an extensive financial audit that a Cebuano priest told me was important before considering the breakup.
Another source, a CPA who was part of a team that reviewed the books of a diocese and set up a financial system for it, said an internal audit was needed to protect the interest of the archdiocese and the new territories. An external audit isn’t enough, he told me in an interview on the condition that I do not name him. It will not be able to spot financial wrongdoings. Ask for an internal audit, he said. Their audit of the much smaller diocese took 3 months, with the team spending 3 days a week in the office of the diocese poring over documents and closely studying transactions. They uncovered a lot of anomalies, he told me, and the findings were crucial in building the system that has since improved the diocese’s finances.
The Archdiocese has also displayed unwillingness to deal with the media on the issue. My guess is that they will hold a press conference only when they complete the process, when they submit the proposal to the Vatican in January, and present it as a milestone accomplishment.
A church official, commenting on my story on the September 19 clery gathering (on MyCebu, CDN Digital, and Rappler), said the media would sensationalize the issue because that’s how we make money, through ads and readership. That is a profound misunderstanding of the role of the media and the work of journalists. It is a misunderstanding that seems to be shared by many church officials. I have been to hundreds of press events and it was only in a church media event that I saw an official framing for reporters the angle and headline for the story of a church coverage. Jesus Christ, I blurted out to myself at that time.
The official church updates on Sugbuswak only come from Bag-ong Lungsoranon, which does a good job of presenting the official line. But people need more than the official line and the important and hard questions, including those from the priests and lay, have to be asked.
We also get Facebook posts of smiling priests attending the consultations and a short summary of who attended, when it was held, and where. No substantial summary of what was discussed. I guess, it’s really not for the general laity. Wa tay labot.
A priest told me that the social media images paint a picture of a happy clergy discussing the Sugbuswak. “What about the many times that we expressed concerns about the development, Max?” one said. I told the priest it’s curated to show only the smiling moments, surely you can’t expect the church to upload photos of you scowling, frowning, or pouting.
On the question of breaking up the Archdiocese of Cebu, synodality apparently means journeying together in a runaway train. But hey, they’re asking people which color to paint the cabs.