I WOULD like to start with two simple definitions. First, by “Church” I mean here both the individual catholic believer and the institutional entity, which includes the Pope, the cardinals and bishops, the clergy, religious and the big group of lay faithful. Oftentimes, Church means the teaching authority or the magisterium, represented by the bishops, in our country, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). By politics or political governance I mean all activities relating to governing, guiding or building civil society.
I am using for my reference The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which has spoken about our subject under the title “The Church and the Political Community” (nos. 330-359). What did it say? “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” (PCP-II 348).
This is what the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says in his first Encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est”: The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the state, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation ‘in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good’” (Deus Caritas Est, 29; John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 42). Such involvement is not optional; it flows from the very core of Christian faith.
Does that mean that bishops and priests have no role in political activity? “The Church’s competence in passing moral judgment even in matters political has been traditionally interpreted as pertaining to the clergy. Negatively put, the clergy can teach moral doctrines covering politics but cannot actively involve themselves in partisan politics” (PCP-II 340). The principle is simply that politics, like all human activities, must be exercised always in the light of faith in the Gospel. The Council states that “the common good cannot be sacrificed on the flimsy pretext that ‘the Church does not engage in politics’. Concretely this means both clergy and laity must be involved in the area of politics when moral and Gospel values are at stake” (344). Because, today we understand salvation in a comprehensive way, the Church’s mission includes also the temporal order.
To change Philippine society, we have to change Philippine politics; in one sense, it may mean politicians must change; in another sense, we must change the politicians. It does not mean change in the form of government, but change in the ones running the government. To do this we need the concerted participation and struggle of all Filipinos of goodwill in political activity. In the language of faith and morality, it is a participation in the battle against human sinfulness, lodged deeply in Philippine politics. It is a struggle to make God’s grace and ethical principle victorious in the Philippines. As one theologian has said: the politics of guns, goons and gold must be converted into the politics of gospel, grace and God.
What about “the separation of Church and State” enshrined in our Constitution and commonly invoked. How can we understand this? The basic purpose of this provision is that Church and State should enjoy and respect each other’s mutual autonomy. By this we understand that they should not interfere in each other’s affairs, should not seek to control each other, or allow themselves to be simply the instrument of each other. However, considering what we said earlier, this separation of Church and State cannot be used as an argument against the participation and involvement of the Church in shaping the politics of our country.
Pope Benedict XVI in “Deus Caritas Est” states: “The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church’s immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically” (no. 28).