Press "Enter" to skip to content

Reading PCP-II

My oldest nephew, on whom we pin great hopes, spent 16 years in that famous school in Loyola Heights, the one that instructs its students not just in reading skills but in Catholic teaching. He recently asked about the topic for my next article. I said: “The 20th anniversary of PCP-II.”

He had a vague memory that PCP-II was once mentioned in a Religion class.

This lacuna may reflect more on that famous school, on the Church, and on me as a negligent Catholic aunt, than on my nephew. His knowledge of PCP-II may even be more than that of most Filipino Catholics.

Lack of interest may be a problem too. With the third sentence of this column I have probably lost 90 percent of those who began to read it. My last two readers may be hanging on only because they fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell should they have naught to say when at the gates St. Peter asks, “What is PCP-II?” For these two, and for my nephew, I will soldier on.

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) was the local Catholic Church’s articulation of her mission according to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). At the risk of insulting my two remaining readers, let me explain that Vatican II is why most Masses are no longer mumbled in Latin by a priest with his back to an uncomprehending congregation of veiled women and bored men.

More than this, Vatican II reformed a Church cowering in defensive mode, trying vainly to enfold her faithful in arms crossed against the modern world. Vatican II pried open the Church’s arms to embrace that world, and defined for her a role of compassionate participation in its redemption.

Vatican II ended in 1965. PCP-II was held in early 1991. The time lag is not further evidence that our country is a quarter century behind everyone else. The Philippine Catholic Church was no slouch all that time.

The years 1966 to 1972 were swept up in post-Vatican II fervor, as Catholic lay activists, religious women and men, and clergy entered the battle for social and political rights alongside a highly mobilized civil society. They clamored with farmers for agrarian reform, fought demolitions arm in arm with informal settlers, and denounced electoral terrorism, with a vigor that heartened some bishops and dismayed others.

From 1972 to 1986, these progressive Catholics, with the support of some bishops, continued under a brutal dictatorship to work with the poor and marginalized, at risk to their lives. They pushed the rest of the episcopate from acceptance of the dictatorship to a leading role in its collapse.

From 1986 to 1991, the Church helped prop up a wobbly new democracy. Her bishops shepherded the post-authoritarian administration with moral support and criticism. Church personnel at lower levels fought for social justice under a new regime that allowed hope of success.

Through all this, Catholic laity, clergy and religious had not sat down with their bishops to discuss what being a post-Vatican II Church meant. But after 25 years of living and dying for Vatican II’s implications, the Church was ready, in January 1991, to rewrite her mission according to those implications.

That rewrite was a collective project. PCP-II had a participatory ethic remarkable for a Church with internal structures that resemble less a democracy than a benevolent dictatorship. The laity, religious and lower clergy were active in Council preparations, informing its agenda through surveys and consultations. Working papers drafted from this process were discussed for three months at all levels of the Church.

At the Council, a third of the members were lay. Half were lower clergy and religious. Only bishops (less than 20 percent) could vote for approval of the Council’s procedures, documents and decrees. But the rest had recommendatory “consultative votes” which the bishops were expected to consider. Together these votes almost unanimously approved the Conciliar Document, which stressed the laity’s equality in the Church’s mission.

Also significant was PCP-II’s commitment to social justice. PCP-II called upon the Philippine Catholic Church to be a “Church of the Poor,” a call at once traditional and radical. It was based on an ancient reading of Jesus’s “love of preference for the poor.” But it was transformed by the modern recognition that social hierarchies long accepted by Catholicism as God-ordained are the fruit of “sinful social structures,” which the Church is obligated to denounce and dismantle.

The call was radical in another sense. It was not a call for the Church to work for the poor, or for elites to lift them out of poverty. It was a call to empower the poor and to work with them for social justice. The Conciliar Document recognized that elites could be an obstacle to the Church’s “mission of preference for the poor.” It lauded as an encouraging development the growth of organizations of the poor.

PCP-II thus committed the Church to become a prophetic Church, denouncing those who rule society unjustly; and a servant Church, supporting the poor’s efforts to correct the injustice.

Has the Church become so? My nephew was 4 and a half years old when PCP-II was held. I want to think that if the country he lives in now has made some progress in addressing the social injustice which incriminates all of us, the Catholic Church has had a part in this. Twenty years later seems a good moment to remind Catholics of PCP-II’s promises, and to reflect on how far those promises have been fulfilled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *