Grave threats to the common good
I’m surprised and troubled by some of the reactions to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) latest pastoral letter. Surprised because there doesn’t seem to be anything controversial in it. And troubled because the criticisms came from some members of the clergy itself.
Here are some of the things the CBCP is saying:
We should all consider the common good as our foremost concern.
We should respect one another, not giving in to hatred and rash judgment.
We should always seek the truth so we can do what is right.
We should see politics as a lofty vocation.
The bishops’ role is merely to provide moral and spiritual guidance.
We should exercise our free right to vote with a view to furthering the common good.
There’s an abuse of truth happening around us. Examples of these are historical revisionism, fake news, and the proliferation of trolls and troll farms.
We should be warned that the history of martial law and the Edsa People Power Revolution is being distorted and that attempts to skew these historical facts with disinformation and false narratives are dangerous because they undermine the common good.
The foundation of a good society and responsible government is the truth, so when this truth is distorted or attacked, it puts us all in danger.
We should examine carefully what is happening in our society in view of the coming elections. We should listen to our conscience, discern what is true and good, and engage in dialogue. We should seek the common good and follow the path of truth, goodness, and justice.
These all sound good and nothing objectionable about them, and are things that we, especially Catholics, can rally behind. But some critics have responded that it’s unnecessarily political, or worse, that the bishops are endorsing a particular candidate or party.
From my perspective as a layperson, those views seem incorrect. Yes, the letter does discuss politics, but I don’t think it’s unnecessarily political. And it’s clearly not true that the letter endorsed any candidate. No name was mentioned. There’s not even an allusion that one particular person embodies the virtues of truth, goodness, and justice, and that we should vote for him or her.
What there is, rather, is an identification of things that indeed attack the truth: historical revisionism, fake news, and trolls in social media. And who can deny these facts? Who can deny that historical revisionism is indeed happening? Who can deny that there’s a proliferation of false information being peddled as news in social media? And who can deny that trolls do exist, and that they seem to be well-coordinated and organized? All these are facts that we are all already familiar with. There’s no mention in the pastoral letter of the provenance of this historical revisionism and fake news. It merely identifies them as real, dangerous, and rightly warns us against them.
So yes, it may seem political, but not unnecessarily so. It doesn’t seem to be taking any sides. If anything, it’s taking the side of truth. And if it’s taking the side of truth, then it must be taking the side of God.
One other important objection to the pastoral letter states that the discussion of temporal affairs and the just ordering of society belongs solely to the laity, not the clergy. That priests and bishops should make sure to only discuss matters of morality and spirituality, and not intervene in temporal issues, especially those that have to do with politics. But there’s actually a qualification for this principle, for the clergy can in fact intervene when the issues involved are grave enough in nature. In short, when there’s a clear and present danger that threatens the common good, then the clergy can justifiably intervene.
Historical revisionism, fake news, and trolls — given their scale, influence, and impact — are clearly grave threats to the common good, thus, the CBCP is justified in issuing the letter. May we all seek and defend truth, through faith and reason, regardless of where we’re coming from in the political spectrum. And may we pray, discern our choices carefully, and engage in common, respectful, and charitable dialogue with one another.
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Dante Cuales Jr. is a writer and works for a San Francisco-based startup. He lives in Cebu with his wife, Bel, and kids, Luke and Lizzy.