THE ADMISSION of Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal and CBCP President Archbishop Fernando Capalla that they’ve been accepting donations from the Philippine Gaming Corporation renders murky the supposedly clear waters defining the Church’s stand against gambling money.

The controversy was supposed to have been cleared when the CBCP issued a statement in January 2004 saying the Church would no longer be accepting donations of money that is the fruit of gambling, whether legal or illegal. Apparently, this was the CBCP’s version of the legalese “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

Now, the bishops have been painted into a corner by the issue, and the nonchalant statement of San Fernando, Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto that they did not ask for the money is not helping at all.

The irregularity, or awkwardness at the least, of this latest generosity of Pagcor is at once manifest. We wonder whether it was just an accident that the donations came at a very crucial point in relation to recent national events—during the bishops’ retreat prior to the issuance of their statement on Gloriagate. And we wonder why the alleged donations were placed in “little envelopes” and not coursed directly to the bishoprics, or archdiocesan institutions actually, directly, and exclusively engaged in religious, charitable, or educational activities.

The separation of Church and State doctrine does not prohibit the latter’s recognition of the former’s role in shaping the people’s spiritual well-being and social mores. Our laws even encourage donations to institutions actually, directly, and exclusively engaged in religious and charitable purposes by declaring such donations to be tax-exempt.

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But in this case, we wonder why the money has to be coursed through the bishops, even if they declare clear consciences and say they are merely conduits in the process.

The Church is the one institution people turn to for guidance in the most trying times. Often, its monolithic stand on national issues has made or broken the backs of political monsters. But now the bishops, princes of the Church and shepherds of Catholics, seem to be confused, and are in turn adding to the cacophony. There is no unified statement coming from the bishops. The CBCP’s media handling is a mess, with some bishops silent while others, obviously emboldened by their ecclesiastical autonomy, speaking their mind, worsening the disharmony in the process.

What is the Church stand on gambling and gambling money? On illegal or legal gambling? The late Jaime Cardinal Sin, a bright beacon of the Philippine Church for decades, once declared, in relation to controversies regarding Church donations from jueteng, that even if the aid comes from the devil, he would accept it and give it to the poor.

Even moral theology does not declare gambling evil per se. It becomes evil only because of certain extrinsic factors, such as when it is abused, or when it leads the gambler to neglect his responsibilities towards family and self. It is a wonder why the CBCP took such an extreme stand against gambling money, when it also admits that it is in need of funds for its humanitarian projects.

And while the bishops admit to accepting from Pagcor, they do not accept donations from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes office. Now, Aniceto says the bishops might have accepted the money in their last retreat (why the CBCP leadership allow Pagcor to leave envelopes during their “retreat” is very worrisome for even those Catholics with the least sense of propriety). But only last year the CBCP issued a statement saying they will no longer accept gambling money as donations. So where to draw the line?

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It is not enough, unfortunately, that the bishops have clean consciences in the matter. Being the spiritual guides of the people, they should have a more militant and firmer sense against any possible impropriety. The least taint in their frocks is enough to derail an ordinary Catholic’s faith, and now is not exactly a good time to test how far the people’s faith could go.

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