New head in Philippines promises to stand up for Catholic values

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines will vigorously maintain its stand on important social issues, including its opposition to a controversial law introduced in 2012 that allows birth control, the group’s new president said.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, 52, stressed today however, that the bishops are not “social troublemakers, rally organisers or a lobby group,” but are “conscience troublemakers” and “Christ’s followers.”

Meeting in Manila during their annual plenary assembly, the bishops elected Archbishop Villegas to head the conference, reported UCA News, the Asian Catholic news agency.

The bishops celebrated a Mass yesterday in support of opponents of the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act of 2012 who have challenged the law in court. The law guarantees universal access to contraception, as well as abortifacients.

law’s opponents planned to argue their case before the country’s Supreme Court later in the day.

Villegas said his election was “unexpected,” adding that “I don’t think any bishop would wish to be elected as (conference) president.”

“We in the church, when we are given a position, it does not make us taller. It just gives us longer hands so we could embrace more people,” the archbishop said in an interview.

Being president of the bishops’ conference does not make one powerful, he said, dismissing comparisons to being the head of a school or government agency.

“The president of CBCP is at the service of the bishops, so whatever the bishops say it is the duty of the president to listen and go to in that direction,” he said.

Archbishop Villegas, who had served one term as conference vice president, will assume his post in December.

The CBCP president and vice president are elected to two-year terms and are traditionally re-elected for a second and final term.

Incumbent Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu City chose not to seek re-election so he could devote more time preparing for the International Eucharistic Congress in his archdiocese in January 2016.