Monday, February 14, 2005

Church and Politics

Participation of the Church in political life is a relevant topic replete with timely issues.

Christian involvement in political life is actually based on the commitment of Christians in the world. For more than 2000 years people of the faith has actively engaged themselves in the life of the world, submitting themselves to duly constituted authority, willingly cooperating with it, in accordance to the dictates of their conscience and the light of the Gospel, in the work for the pursuit of the common good. For these people “man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.” As one early Christian writer put it: (Christians) reside in their own nations, but as residential aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners… They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses laws… So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2240).

With history sweeping men, wittingly or unwittingly, to live in democratic forms of government, the call of the Catholics to actively participate in the affairs of the State becomes more urgent. For in these societies the citizens are suddenly pushed to the forefront of governance, making them active participant in directing the body politic. Christians are no exception to this demand. After all, the life of a democracy cannot be productive and fruitful without the active and responsible involvement of everyone. Here the Christians are expected to contribute their share to the development of political solutions and legislative choices which could benefit the common good. In concrete the right of suffrage and other civil rights have made this active participation possible. The result to such active participation of all citizens, including the Christians, is observed by the Holy See as indeed encouraging, making life more in tune with the dignity of human person. As Cardinal Ratzinger noted: “The great strides made in our time give evidence of humanity’s progress in attaining conditions of life which are more in keeping with human dignity” (cf. “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Nov. 24, 2002, n. 2).

There is another urgent reason why the Christian citizens of today are asked to be more involved in political matters. With an eye adept for right moral judgment the same Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith observed that the evolution of civil society into a more democratic and more participative society has spawn a mentality and a position that is alarming. It is called a pluralistic mentality, a conceptualization that eventually leads to cultural relativism. In the name of freedom the promoters of this tendency envision a system that govern the acts and behavior of man. This system oftentimes runs counter to the standard of natural ethics and sound morality. Called ethical pluralism, it sanctions the decadence of the principles of natural moral law. It teaches citizens to claim complete autonomy with regards to moral choices that they make. It also facilitates the lawmakers to enact laws that are oftentimes unethical and even immoral in the pretext that they are just respecting the freedom of choices of the citizens. It is precisely because of the emergence of these ambiguities or questionable positions that the Church comes out with a document to clarify some important elements of Church teaching in this area. At the same breath it is calling all Christian citizens, in the face of these dangerous modern tendencies, to be more actively involved in the political affairs of the State. The “Doctrinal Note” of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith put the imperative this way: “If Christians must recognize the legitimacy of differing points of view about the organization of worldly affairs, they are also called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism. Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society” (ibid., n. 3).

With that in view, we can safely conclude that active participation in the politic life of the nation is all the more imperative to all Christian citizens.

Here in the Philippines participation of the Church in politics is active, vocal, visible. To put it bluntly, the Church is actively involved in the political as well as in the socio-economic affairs of the nation. In fact, it is because of this that oftentimes it has been accused, mistakenly perhaps, of too much interfering in purely temporal affairs, of transgressing the constitutive principle of separation of Church and State. But, when we come to reflect on it, has our participation in the political life of the State been sufficient? Or, has the Church been effective in its participation in view of her mission to evangelize society in general and politics in particular? Has the common good been sufficiently met through this participation? With the presence of the massive graft and corruption in the country can we rightly conclude that the Church has failed in her mission?

To properly answer these queries, let us go first into the history of the Church in the Philippines in the area of its participation in politics and in other socio-economic activities of the nation. Let us take a brief review of our history. Here, we will find out that involvement of the Church in temporal affairs and therefore in politics, has undergone an interesting evolution. Msgr. Lope Robredillo, a priest of the Diocese of Borongan, was once hired by the CBCP Permanent Council to undertake a brief historical survey of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines from 1945-1995. In that study, he made this interesting conclusion:

“In describing the 50 years of its existence, it is important to take into account the ecclesiological framework within which the conference operated and moved, as well as the changing and diverse historical experiences of the Filipino people which shaped it. As is true of particular churches in other nations, the major shift in ecclesiological paradigm in the Philippine Church, which entailed changes in values and orientations, transpired in the Second Vatican Council. Accordingly, the history of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines may be conveniently divided into two major parts: a) Before the Second Vatican Council and b) After the Second Vatican Council. During these two periods, it can be observed that when the CBCP responded to the various challenges which the particular situation of the Country presented, it did so within the possibilities of its perception and ecclesiological framework” (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Peimon Press, 1995, p. 22).

Before Vatican II, the Church in the Philippines has been shaped by the theology of the Council of Trent with an ecclesiology that concerns with a Church as a social institution. In this concept the Church is a society and the Hierarchy possesses the power of jurisdiction and government. The rest (the faithful) is considered as mere passive subjects of this power. Its mission is the salvation of souls while the means to achieve it is grace that can be had through the preaching of the Word of God and the administration of the sacraments. Of course, within this parameter involvement in politics and in socio-economic affairs of the Nation is narrow and limited. Its concern was mostly religious. In the area of temporal affairs, the Church engages itself in works of mercy and charity, a kind of social welfare. When Vatican II, however, came out with its ecclesiology that declares that the Church is People of God, it opened a novel way of understanding participation in the temporal spheres. A shift was created and a dramatic shift at that. It may not be that immediate, but certain and gradual. Church in the Philippines slowly assimilated in its system the social action which is directly derived from this concept of the Church as People of God. Justice and peace has become the focus of its activity. At the time also dramatic events in the country hastened its growth and development. The declaration of Martial Law certainly created a situation whereby the leaders of the Church could dig deep into the ecclesiology offered by Second Vatican Council and could thereby respond with determination and confidence to the challenges at hand. People of God concept has been the ready source of inspiration and empowerment by the Church in the Philippines in its bitter struggle against the dictatorial rule. EDSA 1 may perhaps be the culminating point of the Church involvement in the political affairs of the country.

In all we can say that the Church in the Philippines, after the Second Vatican Council, has never wavered in her commitment to participate in the political affairs of the civil society. For it is sure in its stand. Its main reason is: integral evangelization. “The task of the Church,” PCP II declared, “in announcing a message of liberation, of saturating every strata of humanity with the values of the Good News will necessarily have political repercussions, for the values of the Kingdom of God often serve as countersigns to prevailing political systems and practices” (n. 335). After all politics is not over and above the natural law and the moral law. Politics has moral and religious dimensions that the Church has to look into and be involved with.

However, the more urgent reason why the Church in the Philippines actively participates in the political affairs of the state in recent times is the existing graft and corruption of our society. It is not just the fact that the Philippines is listed as among the first ten of the most corrupt nations in the world that the Church is pushed to go on in its involvement in politics. But it is rather the tragic effects that graft and corruption has done to our citizenry, our system of governance, our values, our morality, the plight of the poor and the needy. As the Bishops Conference eloquently expressed it: “Why has the Church been usually pro-active in addressing the subject of politics since the end of World War II and especially since the Martial Law years and the restoration of our democracy in 1986? There is one main reason: Philippine politics – the way it is practiced – has been most hurtful of us as a people. It is possibly the biggest bane in our life as a nation and the most pernicious obstacle to our achieving of full human development” (Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics, September 16, 1997, 4-5).

In this regard, the Church in the Philippines had summoned support from all levels of society. In particular, it addressed the laity to be more active in politics as this is precisely the sphere wherein they are called to transform the world in the spirit of the Gospel and according to Christian values and conscience. PCP II put it loudly: “In the Philippines today given the general perception that politics has become an obstacle to integral development, the urgent necessity is for the lay faithful to participate more actively, with singular competence and integrity, in political affairs. It is through the laity that the Church is directly involved. .. Our Plenary Council stands on record to urge the lay faithful to participate actively and lead in the renewing of politics in accordance with values of the Good News of Jesus” (Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, Renewed Evangelization, 348-350).

Well said. And yet messy problems popped up in the concrete. First, in response to the call of the hierarchy, some Catholic lay associations came out and proposed to support a candidate or a party which they believe are credible and worth supporting. The Church shudders at the wake of this reality. Is this kind of support to partisan politics equivalent to siding with one political party against the other? Can the support of the lay association carry with it the name of the Catholic Church? Does it need the approval of the CBCP? Is it wise to put up a so-called “Catholic candidates”? Shall a so-called “Catholic vote” to remain just a mere fancy? Will the bishops of the Philippines approve of this arrangement? Or, is there a need for the lay to always consult the bishops on this matter that is political?

Meantime, the Church in the Philippines came out with strong warning to the clergy and to the religious not to engage in partisan politics. It is not because it is passing the responsibility to the laity but because the universal law of the Church does not allow it. Canon 287, § 2 is very explicit on the matter. It says: “They (clerics) are not to play an active role in political parties or in directing trade unions unless, in the judgment of the competent ecclesiastical authority, this is required for the defence of the rights of the Church or to promote the common good.” In fact, there are some ordinaries who come out strong in sanctioning clerics under their jurisdiction who play actively in partisan political affairs. The reason for this strong prohibition of the Church is that the “clergy and religious are considered the symbols of unity in the Church community. For them to take an active part in partisan politics, with its wheeling and dealing, compromises, confrontational and adversarial positions, would be to weaken their teaching authority and destroy the unity they represent and protect” (CBCP: Catechism on the Church and Politics, 22, February 1998). But questions come to the fore. Is exposing corrupt candidates done by the clergy or Hierarchy, explicitly mentioning the names concerned, playing an active role in partisan politics? Is posting by the clergy a rooster of good candidates partisan politicking? Up to what extent does Church guide the laity during election without playing partisan politics? Messy questions no doubt, but to be asked nonetheless.