Monday, January 08, 2007


January 12, 2007

The convergence of various cultures, legal systems and religions has through the years produced peculiar effects in the relationship between the State and the Church in the Philippines. The various powers that colonized the country have left an indelible imprint in the country’s laws and life and consequently worked together in shaping up the relationship between the Church and the State. That there is a separation of Church and State is a fact. This is amply evidenced in the various constitutions of the country . The problem is the nature and style of separation. What does separation of Church and State mean? This paper will try to handle and answer this nagging question from the canonical point of view and the Conciliar teachings.

The Philippine Constitution describes this relationship in this manner: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination and preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Simply put, the separation of Church and State doctrine as expressed in the present Constitution implies two things, namely, 1) that no religion may be established as the official religion of the State nor prohibits the free exercise thereof; 2) that the State shall not favor one religion over the others. It logically follows from the aforementioned that the State shall allow the free exercise and enjoyment of any religious creed or conviction one may choose to adhere to.

The present code of canon law, on its part, maintains and rightfully claims the moral personality of the Catholic Church and the Apostolic See by divine ordination which serves the basis for the autonomy of its jurisdictional authority and character and independence in the human community . It further lays claim, among others, the freedom to preach the gospel and to render moral judgment on any matter of human affairs ; to establish and direct schools; to promote formation and education in the Catholic religion at all levels of education; to train its own ministers; to appoint and send papal legates; to establish the matrimonial regimen for its faithful; to acquire, retain or sell temporal goods for the attainments for its own goals; to punish with penal sanctions those of the faithful who commit delicts; and to judge its own cases. It goes without saying that that each of these stipulations presupposes the fundamental purpose of affirming the Church’s autonomy vis-à-vis temporal powers, and, its “inherent,” “exclusive,” “native,” “original” freedoms and rights “independent of civil power.” They are not actual presentation of the relations between Church and State, nor are they practical guidelines on how separation of Church and State should be carried out in day-to-day transactions and political interactions. But they do provide the ready foundation for the establishment of such relation together with the Church’s conviction that it has supreme authority over its juridical code. By virtue of her mission to spread the gospel message and to unify the spirit of all, the Church stands forth as sign of that unity which allows honest dialogue. It requires mutual esteem, reverence and harmony through the recognition of lawful diversity.

The Church and the State, has for numerous times, shown a great level of collaboration in a number of issues as evidenced by the various concordats the Church has established with different states. While the authority of the State is limited to the temporal affairs of man and the Church on the spiritual matters, recent events have shown that the Church has been more and more concerned with the development of man for as members of society, the members of the Church has the same duty to promote the common good as does the State. It is in the arena of politics that the separation of Church and State is being most often invoked.


The most fundamental principle governing Church-State relationships is that the Church has a very specific purpose in the world and it is not constituted as an entity opposed to the State. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the Conciliar statement of Gaudium et spes, no. 76, which puts this issue in its proper perspective. Several important points must be highlighted in this statement. First, the Church affirms the natural and supernatural dimensions of each and every human being. Even though the direct and primary concern of the Church is the transcendental dimension, it has inherent right to use temporal or earthly realities to accomplish its mission. Second, in accomplishing its mission, the Church does not look for any privileges or special concessions from civil authority, which would compromise its intrinsic and essential goal, that is, the salvation of each human being. In other words, the Church is not going to enter into any deals, which would taint the sincerity of its witness. Third, in view of its mission, the Church should have true freedom to preach its message. The message concerns the faith, society, moral judgments in matters relating to politics, but especially the fundamental rights of human beings and salvation of souls. The Church merely claims its inherent right to witness to and stand up for human rights and salvation of souls and do so with courage and authority. Fourth, the Church does not exercise political or temporal power. Therefore, the means it has the right to use are those, which correspond to the Gospel message. The Church can in fact become a leaven in the political arena by preparing and encouraging suitable persons who would work for the welfare of all people according to the Gospel message.


If politics is to be understood in a broad sense, that is, the community’s pursuit of the common good, then the Church cannot but be involved in it. The common good embraces the sum total of conditions of social life by which individual, families, and groups can achieve their own fulfillment in a relatively thorough and ready way.

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.”

With history sweeping men 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.”

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”

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 commissioned 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”

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 governance. 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.” 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”

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”

Hence, the Church has to involve itself in political life, understood in the broad sense, of the State. The Church has the right to preach the gospel without hindrance, to teach its social doctrines and to discharge its duty among the people of God. It has, likewise, the right to express moral judgments, even on matters touching the political order, whenever basic personal rights or the salvation of soul makes such judgment necessary . It is precisely because of this that the Church and the State, while respecting there respective autonomy, have to collaborate with each other for the protection and realization of the common good. Recently the relationship of the Church with the State has been described by the Philippine Bishops as one of ‘critical solidarity’ .

While collaborating with the State, the Church retains its native and inherent right to speak out in prophetic wisdom against any form of injustice or violation of the moral, social, political and economic order.


As pointed out earlier, the Church may teach moral doctrines covering politics but cannot actively take part in partisan politics. It is in the latter that the clergy are prohibited from getting involved. Yet, there is no provision in the present Constitution, which bars the clergy and the religious from partisan politics. It is by virtue of the Church’s own laws and tradition that prohibits the clergy and religious from any involvement in partisan politics . Canon 287, § 2 contains a negatively formulated juridical norm for the clerics and therefore precise and strong in its prohibition. It states: “They are not to have active part to political parties and in governing labor unions unless, in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.” Like canon 285, § 3, which prohibits the clergy from holding public office, this restriction on political activity is based on the distinctive role of the clergy and the laity. Needless to say, political activity ordinarily belongs to lay persons.

It is the responsibility of the clergy to promote unity in the community. They are ordained and configured to take care of all the faithful, not just segments of the community as members of political party. The Church therefore prohibits the clergy from involvement in partisan politics since they are considered symbols of unity in the Church and in the community and certainly partisan politics is, by its very nature, divisive. 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 the represent and protect .Consequently, the clergy, “witness of future things, should keep a certain distance from any political position or effort.”

The bishops and the clergy, like all citizens, have the right to make their own choices . Together with the faithful they are in fact, obliged to take a clear action when the human person requires help, when human rights are to be defended, and to work for peace and justice . In expressing the choices they are to avoid giving the impression that their opinions are the sole legitimate ones. They are, however, to refrain from intervening in partisan politics unless there is an issue of just social order. In this regard, the late John Paul II made a strong position: “Presbyters who, in generosity of their service to the evangelical ideal feel the tendency towards immersing themselves in political activity, in order to contribute more effectively to healing political life, by eliminating injustices, exploitation and oppressions of all kinds, are reminded by the Church that, along that road, it is easy to see oneself involved in party struggles, running risk of collaborating, not in the birth of a just world, to which we all aspire, but rather, to new and worse forms of exploitation of poor people. They should know, in any case, that they do not have the mission or charism from on high for that endeavor in political action and participation”
This prohibition is, however, not absolute. Whenever the defense of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires, the prohibition could be removed on exceptional cases. With the condition that the evaluation of the circumstances which justifies cleric’s participation in politics falls upon the legitimate ecclesiastical authority and is never left to the personal judgment of the clergy. Specifically, it would require the consent of the bishop, after having consulted the presbyteral council and also, if the case requires it, the bishops’ conference.

New Year Message

The approach of the new year 2007 again augurs fresh hope for new beginning. It evokes anticipation, better tomorrow, bright days ahead, no matter the dark ominous shadow at the heel of the old year that is fast fading to the irretrievable past. For lodged deeply in man’s being is that stubborn hope that springs eternal.

Hope, however, does not work on a vacuum. It feeds on perceived reality. And as different people have different ways of perceiving realities, it is no wonder that man’s hope to survive or succeed differs. One places his hope on the market and therefore gauges his better tomorrow with the economic growth or, at least, stability. With the growing strength of the peso vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar, some Filipinos hope that we are at last in a break through towards quality life, development, and progress. At least this is what the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey told us as bannered by the Philippine Star December 29, 2006 issue: “Despite a spate of natural calamities and political upheavals in the year just past, most Filipinos still look to the New Year with hope.” Others hope that globalization will somehow catch up with us and sweep the Philippines to finally reach the economic tiger status in the region offering to the Filipinos life that approximates first world citizens. Others place hope in the discovery of science, the growing wonders of the chips in the cyberspace world and the virtual images they create, the advance of technology, human endeavors and unheard of inventions. All help to fuel man’s hope for the new year, notwithstanding the challenges on its train.

No matter the boast of modern man, however, he is still disturbed with fears and apprehensions lurking deep in his being. Can he survive the ever growing challenges of life, the precarious peace based on a bilateral agreement of contending parties, the deep-seated hatred of one class against the other, the insatiable hunger for more power and wealth among the rich and powerful in the face of poor people stretching out their gaunt hands to reach out for a piece of dry bread or a bowl of rice to stave off the gnawing pain of hunger, the graft and corruption in public office, the bombings, summary killings, robbery and petty thefts? It is no wonder that one great scientist in the midst of all these staggering discoveries made by man, the power they have unleashed, the riches they have helped to amass, pensively made this wry statement: “I just hope that after all these discoveries man will wake up to find the universe friendly.”

The Church perceives reality from the perspective of faith. Its hope for man and for the society in which he lives is based on the belief that God is not a distant God, but a God who hears the cry of the poor, a God who cares, a God who takes on human flesh and blood and dwells among His own, a God who dies that the whole creation might live. It is this God who is the hope of man. As St. Paul spiritedly put it: “Indeed, the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God… because the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8: 20 & 21). It is this kind of hope that the Church offers to a humanity that is caught up in shivers due to the spate of so much violence and wanton killings. It is based on the perception that Christ conquered sin, death and all that are connected with it. In Him and with Him we too can conquer sin, death and all the ugly things and occurrences that ever rear up to destroy human life and values. “If God is for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8: 31)?

And so, when the believer greets you “Happy New Year”, he is expressing his deep conviction that human life is not only friendly - it is worth living.

Happy New Year to one and all.