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Religion against corruption

On the eve of its 101st founding anniversary, a power struggle within the family controlling the leadership of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) landed the church on the front pages of the dailies. This was unexpected; the INC has traditionally maintained a tight discipline over its followers.

Mercifully, the media coverage has not provoked schadenfreude reactions that rejoice over the INC’s present crisis. Christians of other denominations have no reason to feel smug or superior that their churches are not subject to similar scrutiny. No matter the divine origins and mission claimed by organized religions, their institutions still depend on flawed and fallible mortals, as Pope Francis himself has acknowledged.

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Speaking at Scampia in March, the Pope warned: “Not one of us can say, I’ll never be corrupt.” He was even more explicit in an earlier homily in June 2014 in Rome: “The corrupt politician, the corrupt businessmen and the corrupt clergy are to be found everywhere. Corruption is precisely the sin that the person with authority—whether political, economic or ecclesiastical—over others has most readily to hand. We are all tempted to corruption.”

Speaking for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Archbishop Soc Villegas asked the Catholic faithful to pray for the INC, as Ka Angel Manalo requested, that it can find a peaceful resolution of the conflict among its members. The CBCP recognized the pastoral care and spiritual guidance that the INC faithful received from their church. Unlike the conflicts that divided the Catholic Church in the Europe of the 16th century, the INC’s problems do not appear to involve disputes regarding church doctrine.

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Beyond its spiritual ministry, however, the INC, like other religious institutions, must administer a bureaucracy and manage an economic enterprise. The causes of conflict appear to have arisen from these aspects of the institution. The charges raised against INC leaders include competition over the leadership of the church, corrupt business transactions, and violence inflicted or threatened on whistle-blowers and the “renegades” who sided with them.

The incumbent hierarchy, led by executive minister Eduardo V. Manalo, has denied these allegations. The gravity of the charges, however, compels the government to conduct its own investigation. The individuals who claim that they are under threat from the discipline enforced by the INC on its community have a right to the protection of the state.

With some 2 million followers, the INC also exerts political influence. It allegedly mobilized support for a failed bid to avert the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Analysts believe that the majority of INC voters cast their ballots according to the instructions of their leaders.

Unfortunately for the INC, the crisis blew up at a time when the election fever had begun to raise temperatures across the country, thus focusing unwanted attention on how it uses its political influence. A politician has claimed that INC leaders have asked for money in exchange for the delivery of the church’s command votes to his candidacy. The question for political analysts now centers on the impact of the disturbances within the INC on the 2016 elections. Who stands to lose or to gain from the potential fragmentation of the

INC votes?

The concern of churches for the afterlife does not exclude them from taking an interest in earthly affairs. The clergy’s religious vows do not deprive them of their civil rights. They may even have the obligation to offer moral guidance on how their flock should exercise theirs. It is not the INC’s fault that it is more effective than other churches in shepherding the flock toward political ends. But all churches and the country would benefit from a greater transparency on the stand they take on national issues and political candidates.

Pope Francis has taken positions on political issues, especially on corruption and its impact on society. His homily at Sta. Marta in June last year dismissed the idea that a politician practicing graft can benefit the poor, because it is the poor who bear the cost of corruption. At a Vatican address last October, he denounced corruption as “an evil greater than sin. More than forgiveness, this evil needs to be cured.”

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During his pastoral visit to the Philippines last January, he reminded the country of the urgency that “political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.” Last month, in Paraguay, he described corruption among public officials as “the gangrene of the people” and those engaged in corruption as “whitewashed tombs … full of dead bones and putrefaction.”

Periodically, institutions must go through a cleansing, reformation process. From a larger perspective, the good that may come from the INC effort to deal with its problems may be in uniting religious groups to travel along the “daang matuwid.” Surely, all churches would

oppose corruption and corrupt politicians.

 

Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected]) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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TAGS: column, corruption, Edilberto C. de Jesus, Iglesia Ni Cristo, power struggle, Religion
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