Quantcast

Sounding Board

Clerics and the political process

By

The debates on the reproductive health bill have died down, and now there is toe-in-the-water talk about divorce. Some friends have asked me what role clerics should have in matters involving controversial legislation. Let me be more general, however, and ask instead about clerical involvement in public affairs.

One person who expressed in very strong language his opposition to religious involvement in public affairs was Barry Goldwater. He said: “The great decisions of government cannot be dictated by the concerns of religious factions… We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of the state from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups, and we mustn’t stop now!”

Goldwater could not have been more inaccurate historically. Whether viewed against American history or Philippine history, the statement is false. Churches have influenced American politics from the days of Jefferson down to the prophetic preaching of Martin Luther King and the pastoral letters of the American bishops. Likewise in the Philippines, religion has been involved in politics from the days of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora down to the pastoral letters on social justice and on the conduct of elections. I do not see this involvement coming to an end. Depending on circumstances, it can even intensify, as it did in the RH-bill debates. But it is legitimate to ask how clerical activism fits into the Philippine political culture.

A question often asked is whether a cleric may run for public office. There is no constitutional obstacle to that. There was a Supreme Court decision under the 1935 Constitution which said that clerics, much like firemen and policemen, should not run for public office. But the decision was actually a minority decision upholding a statutory provision at the time when the Constitution required a two-thirds vote of the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional.

As to the obstacle arising from Canon Law prescription, it is not insurmountable. What remains, therefore, is a question of prudence or propriety. This writer’s view on this is that in principle, a cleric must choose between being fully a Church minister or a public official. Combining the two can be both religiously and politically unhealthy.

Another important question touches on the substance of the preaching of clergy and religious. Preaching does not simply refer to sermons and homilies in church. Included are public or semipublic pronouncements such as blogs or columns.

Certainly, no one will deny the clergy the right to preach about morality. That is their task and they would be remiss in their duties if they habitually avoid moral issues. This is all part of ordinary religious preaching.

It is a different matter, however, when out of general moral teachings, specific public positions are advocated—such as impeachment, Charter change, the banning of “jueteng” or even the RH bill. Of course, there are specific conclusions that flow naturally from some general positions. But specific practical conclusions do not always come out naturally. The fact that an act is clearly sinful does not lead to the easy conclusion that therefore it should be penalized. If it were, our prisons would be more crowded than they already are.

Why is it that people sometimes do not want their religious leaders to tell them what specific actions they should take or what political conclusions they should make? It is all part and parcel of being a citizen of a democracy. “I have my own mind. Don’t insult me. Let me draw my own conclusion!”

This is a perfectly legitimate attitude. To avoid alienating people who have such an attitude, a cleric must carefully and respectfully present his conclusions. If the practical conclusions are presented as the product of one’s own study and are presented for people to agree or disagree with, then no one should feel insulted or offended. Much less should a cleric threaten hellfire against those who disagree.

Another objection to specific pronouncements by clerics is that their competence and their access to needed facts for drawing conclusions are limited. Rarely is their expertise related to economics, law, sociology, or politics, etc. Specific conclusions about the morality of economic or political decisions can depend very much on the dynamics and nuances of these specialized fields. If the cleric has competence in these fields, then his conclusion can be more persuasive.

However, it is also good to remember that even the people whose task it is to make important decisions that impact on the lives of people—such as legislators—do not always have the needed expertise on what they may be talking about. Some easily talk through their hat. But this is no reason for a cleric to be reckless.

While a cleric, however, should not be reckless in his statements, neither should he be inordinately pusillanimous. There are political and economic decisions that have great moral significance. These should be faced, with prudence, yes, but not with cowardly avoidance of conflict. Risks are part of the apostolic mission.

Clerics do make mistakes, out of carelessness, perhaps, or through excess of zeal, or even for more foolish reasons. But in my own estimate, mistakes and all, the courageous stand of clerics and churches can do much harm. The courage of the churches in the Philippines has made a significant contribution to improving economic and political life.


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=43323

Tags: Catholic Church , Clerics , Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas , opinion , politics , Religion , Reproductive Health Bill , S.J. , Sounding Board



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • Nebraska toddler gets stuck inside claw machine
  • Philippine eagle rescued by Army turned over to DENR
  • Gunmen attack Iraq military base, kill 10 soldiers
  • South Korea president shouted down by distraught parents
  • Classmates celebrating 60th birthday among missing in ferry sinking
  • Sports

  • Power Pinays smash India in Asian Women’s Club volleyball opener
  • PH youth boxers off to stumbling start in AIBA World tilt
  • Durant has 42, Thunder beat Pistons 112-111
  • Walker leads Bobcats over Bulls in OT, 91-86
  • Man City slips further out of title contention
  • Lifestyle

  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • Entertainment

  • Jones, Godard, Cronenberg in competition at Cannes
  • Will Arnett files for divorce from Amy Poehler
  • American rapper cuts own penis, jumps off building
  • Jay Z to bring Made in America music fest to LA
  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Business

  • ‘Chinese Twitter’ firm Weibo to go public in US
  • World stocks subdued, Nikkei flat on profit taking
  • Asia stocks fail to match Wall Street gains
  • Fired Yahoo exec gets $58M for 15 months of work
  • PH presses bid to keep rice import controls
  • Technology

  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  • DOF: Tagaytay, QC best at handling funds
  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • DFA: 2 Filipinos survive Korean ferry disaster
  • PH asks airline passengers to check for MERS
  • Syria most dangerous country for journalists, PH 3rd—watchdog
  • Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • Marketplace