Pope Francis and a Self-Righteous Priest from Cebu

Pope Francis is a darling among the progressive wing of Catholics. He wins many hearts with his thought-provoking speeches and his unorthodox interpretation of Christ’s teachings.

Last year when he cited a well-known Bible parable to defend baptizing babies of unwed parents, the figurehead of the worldwide Catholic church turned many heads for taking a very liberal approach to the rites of Baptism.

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reports that  the Pontiff, during a celebration of the Eucharist, commented on the Gospel of Mark where Christ rebukes the disciples for preventing the little children from coming to Him. (Mark 10: 13-16)

The paper quotes the Pope:

A girl-mother goes to the parish to ask for Baptism for her child and hears “a Christian” say, “No, you can’t have it, you’re not married.”

“Look at this girl who had had the courage to carry her pregnancy to term” and not to have an abortion. “What does she find? A closed door,” as do so many. “This is not good pastoral zeal, it distances people from the Lord and does not open doors. So when we take this path…we are not doing good to people, the People of God.” Jesus “instituted seven sacraments, and with this approach we institute the eighth, the sacrament of the pastoral customs office.”

In that anecdote, the Pope essentially justifies the baptism of newborn off-springs of unwed parents – saying that the fact that the mother chose life over an abortion is to be celebrated.

Unfortunately, the Pope’s subordinates did not get the memo.

Recently, an online video showing a priest in Cebu berating a teenage mother during her newborn baby’s baptism is making rounds on the internet.

The viral video sparked outrage among rational-minded Filipinos, many of whom were appalled by the harsh criticism of the reverend. The priest in the video is identified to be Fr. Romeo Obach, a priest from the city of Mandaue. The teenage mom is thought to only be 17 years old, and the video footage was uploaded by the girl’s mother on Facebook.

Uploading that video turned out to be a blessing, as it placed a spotlight on this self-righteous priest – placing him in the firing line of a barrage of criticisms from disturbed Filipinos.

The video is over two minutes long, and to summarize is mainly the priest scolding the mother – who was holding her child – for having an offspring despite being unmarried.

The most cringe-worthy lines coming from the priest include:

We should close this church for the shame because you would have the child baptized without a husband; you slept with a man not your husband. Did you hear me? Are you not ashamed? That should be a source of great shame.

As a Christian should you be proud of this, that you have a child but not a husband? You should be ashamed and even hide yourself.

This child is not at fault but women and men who sleep together outside of marriage live in sin. The disgrace will be passed on to the child

That harsh rhetoric is a sharp contrast to what the Pope, the superior of all Catholic priests worldwide, had said regarding the same subject. One showed compassion, while another showed an abusive behavior.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) chimed in on the issue and called the actions of Fr. Obach ‘uncalled for.’ That may be putting it at its’ mildest.

Not only was the incident unprovoked, but the words of the priest caused great stress on the already problematic situation the teenage mother is in. According to the young girl’s mother, the former is already in counselling after being abandoned by the father of the child.

Above all, the priest had no justification to refuse the child baptism according to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Not to mention, baptism is not about the parents. According to Catholic theology, baptism is the only answer to original sin therefore what’s at stake is not the reputation of the parents nor the parish and its’ clergy, but the child’s soul created by God.

In addition, the Pope himself conducted several baptisms of orphaned babies – many of whom could be off-springs of single parents. And early this year, Pope Francis caused headlines when he publicly baptized the baby of an unwed couple.

The actions of Fr. Obach is nothing more than grandstanding, a show of being self-righteous. This was the same conduct of the pharisees in the New Testament, who condemned Jesus and acted in a holier-than-thou manner.

This incident also reminds us of the parable of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery – where an angry mob dragged a woman who committed adultery to Jesus and asked that she be stoned to death as commanded in the Old Testament.

Jesus heeded their call, but asked that the one in the mob with no sin be the one to cast the first stone. Ashamed by what they have just realized, the crowd of people left and the woman was unharmed and forgiven by Jesus.

It’s a shame that the brand of humility, forgiveness and compassion shown by Jesus – the person whom these priests claim to follow – is not imitated by the latter. Instead we see the kind of Christianity that the persons who condemned Jesus to death showed.

Thankfully, the priest is being subjected to a sanction by his immediate superiors and Fr. Obach has also issued a formal statement apologizing to the family for the harm he has done. But anyone who gets caught is always sorry, it’s unknown if Fr. Obach truly sees the error in his ways.

Nevertheless, may this incident be an eye-opener for the entire Church – especially as there is a handful who defend the actions of the priest. May we learn that Christianity, first and foremost, teaches forgiveness – not self-righteousness.

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