Bishops at War

Sounding Board

By: Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
10:01 pm | Sunday, August 26th, 2012

In the wake of the controversy about the Reproductive Health bill a couple of bishops have gone to war against university professors and, in the process, have issued dire warnings against Catholic universities. They threaten stripping universities of the title Catholic. I doubt that the bishops were thinking about what is happening to the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru because there is only one Pontifical Catholic University in the Philippines, and it is not the Ateneo. At any rate, are the bishops waging a just war? I will not attempt to answer that question. I will simply say that the professors and the universities can take care of themselves.

But as election time approaches, there is also a threatening war against defenders of the RH bill who might dare run for public office in the coming elections. And since we, and not only bishops, are interested in the Church’s teaching on church and politics, we might all learn something from what a young Jesuit colleague of mine has put together in a piece from which I will freely quote or paraphrase. (Let this mention of my young colleague count as the required acknowledgment of sources needed to avoid accusations of plagiarism!)

Will a holy war against candidates who support the RH bill get the support of Pope Benedict XVI? In “Deus est Caritas,” Benedict XVI emphasized the old Catholic teaching that the formation of a just society as a political task is not a direct duty of the Church; this task belongs properly to the laity. The role of the Church is indirect: to purify reason and inspire ethical political participation leading to the building of a more just society.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) itself, as a plenary body, does not endorse nor disapprove candidates, but it allows individual bishops to do so. Such a two-level approach to granting or denying political blessings to candidates may prove to be confusing for Filipino Catholic voters who usually identify the statements and actions of individual bishops as the moral position of the entire hierarchy. But that is the price we pay for freedom of expression which, when not properly used by a church leader, can work even against the Church itself.

It is also good to recall what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP2) taught. My young colleague shared these quotations from PCP2:

“The public defense of gospel values, however, especially when carried into the arena of public policy formulation, whether through the advocacy of lay leaders or the moral suasion by pastors, is not without limit. It needs emphasizing, that, although pastors have the liberty to participate in policy debate and formulation, that liberty must not be exercised to the detriment of the religious freedom of non-communicants, or even of dissenting communicants. This is a clear implication of Vatican II’s ‘Dignitatis Humanae.’ This is not just a matter of prudence; it is a matter of justice.

“There may even be some Catholic believers who in all honesty do not see the truth the way the Church’s magisterium discerns, interprets and teaches it. In such a situation, the Church must clearly and firmly teach what it believes is the truth and require its members to form their consciences accordingly. Yet the Church must also, with all charity and justice, hold on to its doctrine on religious freedom—that the human person is bound to follow his or her conscience faithfully, and must not be forced to act contrary to it.”

When a bishop tells his pro-RH bill congressional candidate that his diocese will campaign against him or her in future elections, the bishop is no longer seeking to persuade the legislator about the reasonableness of the Church’s position but rather the bishop is simply appealing to the legislator’s instinct of self-preservation. Such a tactic is counter-productive to the formation of a kind of politics that is based on principles because it reinforces a way of practicing politics that values expediency rather than service, justice and the common good.

Besides, the threat against candidates would be meaningful if there were such a thing as a Catholic vote. The CBCP itself, in its Catechism on Church and Politics for the 1998 elections, had denied the existence of a Catholic vote: “There is generally no such thing as a ‘Catholic vote’ or ‘the Bishops’ candidates’.” This is simply a myth. It still is today.

The CBCP Catechism provided for an extraordinary exception when a prelate can order the lay faithful to vote for one concrete political option:

This happens when a political option is clearly the only one demanded by the Gospel. An example is when a presidential candidate is clearly bent to destroy the Church and its mission of salvation and has all the resources to win, while hiding his malevolent intentions behind political promises. In this case the Church may authoritatively demand the faithful, even under pain of sin, to vote against this particular candidate. But such situations are understandably very rare.

The CBCP intended this exception to be used only on rare and grave occasions such as when the survival of the Church and its mission would be at stake. I doubt that the CBCP would apply this to a bishop’s desire to apply political pressure on a legislator to vote against the RH bill.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: