“The vow of celibacy is a matter of keeping one’s word to Christ and the Church. a duty and a proof of the priest’s inner maturity; it is the expression of his personal dignity.” Pope John Paul II
By Alex P. Vidal
EITHER Pope Francis deliberately ignored it, or he was not reminded about the case of the two controversial Iloilo married priests, who recently made headlines when they baptized their children.
For sure, the pope knew about the cases of Fr. Hector Canto and Fr. Jose Elmer Cajilig.
Despite the publicity generated by the decision of Canto and Cajilig to baptize their children four days before the pope’s January 15 arrival in Manila, the supreme pontiff never tackled the matter during his five-day visit.
To highlight the baptismal rites, the two “rebel” priests renewed their appeal for the abolition of the mandatory celibacy among the clergy.
They cited the cases of “many children suffering and growing up without fathers.”
Canto and Cajilig, at least, are not hypocrites.
They acknowledge the fact that many priests have sired illegitimate children.
For them, the only way to prevent a mass production of illegitimate offspring by priest parents is to allow them to enjoy the sanctity of marriage.
Cases of testosterone-loaded priests impregnating women are not the latest “sexcapades” that rock the church.
They have been prevalent since during the Dark Ages.
Dr. Jose Rizal and Graciano Lopez-Jaena have exposed this scandal in their satire and polemics.
Members of the clergy are also humans.
Vatican, however, is not yet inclined to abolish mandatory celibacy, thus many priests who wanted to raise a family have resigned from priesthood.
But not Canto and Cajilig, who still wore their liturgical vestments and assisted officiating priest, Fr. Jesus Siva in celebrating the Mass.
Fifty four-year-old Siva, for his part, asked the pope: “We appeal for compassion and mercy from Pope Francis for the priests and their children. Baptizing these children is giving them dignity.”
Siva, who in 1998 officiated Canto’s wedding to Cynthia Diamante, himself has two sons aged 15 and 13.
The baptismal rites held at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel in Lambunao, Iloilo, were witnessed by 80 friends, relatives and parishioners of the three priests.
Canto’s daughter was baptized as Gabriel Opcel for “optional celibacy.” He has three other children aged 7 to 14 also with Opcel as part of their first names.
Canto’s son, Mikhael, served as an altar boy during the baptismal rites.
To get the papal attention, Canto saif they moved the baptism from the original scheduled in December 2014 to Jan. 11.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Canto as saying, “We are hoping that changes will happen in the Church. I don’t want to leave the priesthood.”
Canto told the PDI they saw the Pope as open-minded although he had no illusions that changes on the celibacy rule would happen soon.
“Sooner or later, change will happen. But it may not be during my lifetime,” he said.
Siva, Canto and Cajilig have been calling on the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, believing that “celibacy is a gift” and should not be mandatory to all priests, said the PDI report.
The report further said: “Despite objection from Church officials, Siva officiated the highly celebrated marriage of Canto and Diamante on May 31, 1998 at the Mt. Zion chapel in Barangay (village) Balagiao in Lambunao.
“In June 1999, Church officials revoked the two priests’ license to solemnize marriages. Since then, they have not received assignments but they have been holding Masses every Sunday in Balagiao and in the town proper among the parishes they organized.
The National Statistics Office granted licenses to Canto and Siva to officiate civil weddings last year.
And they intend to continue with their duties and obligations as clergymen.
The pope may have been embarrassed by what they did, but, at least, to avoid controversy, he elected not to touch on this sensitive matter while on a five-day sojourn in the country.
The pope probably wanted the Philippine Catholic Church hierarchy headed by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle to handle the matter.