Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Church's Stance vis-a-vis the Present Government

I wrote this article which was published in the CBCP Monitor this week

The Church's Stance vis-a-vis the Present Regime

In the minds of many people, the passage of the RH bill was a defeat for the Church - a sign of the declining influence of the Church in the political arena, a failure of the Church to assert her moral and political power.  This assessment is questionable. But what is clear is that the President and his allies have succeeded in passing a law which they claim can help solve the problem of poverty and ensure the "reproductive health" of women by providing free contraceptives and compulsory sex education.

The question is what should the Church’s stance be vis-à-vis the present government in view of this recent development?

In my opinion, there are various options. The first is to keep silent and withdraw from engagement in the social and political arena. Let things be, focus on the spiritual and religious matters. This means being in the sidelines and not “meddling” in politics. This is probably what the government and elements of civil society influenced by Western liberal-secular agenda would like.  This would be an abdication of the Church’s social mission.

Another option is to build up and re-assert the Church’s influence in the political sphere. In view of the coming election, this means making the “Catholic vote” a reality, campaigning against pro-RH politicians and supporting pro-life candidates. This implies becoming a power-broker.  Easier said than done. The Church cannot follow the act of the INK. The clergy cannot tell the faithful who to vote for. The lay leaders coming from mandated organizations and movements do not have the capability of creating a critical mass. Catholics may constitute the majority of the population, but those who follow the teachings of the Church are a minority. The majority are nominal Catholics who do not listen to the clergy – especially when it comes to political matters.

Campaigning on a single issue (RH law) could put the Church on the side of  politicians who may not be paragons of good governance. It would be too much to expect the electorate to vote on the basis of a single issue. Being pro-life should not be the only criteria for voting candidates into office. It would be inappropriate to vote for candidates who are claim to be pro-life and yet have records of corruption, abuse of power, violence, human rights violation  and destruction of the environment.

The option which I find preferable is that of the humble servant and prophet.

This means avoiding the image of the Church as a powerful institution trying to throw her weight around or imposing her will in the political arena, acting like a bully. The Church will continue to function as a humble servant continuing the various programs and initiatives that concretely manifest her care for the poor, the sick and the weak. This means working for justice and for peace, defending the integrity of creation – the environment. This also means promoting and defending the basic rights of all – including the right to life of everyone, especially the unborn. Thus, the Church needs to embrace a consistent ethic of life that integrates these various concerns.

The Church should be willing to engage and collaborate with the government and civil society in promoting the common good – especially in poverty alleviation, promotion of peace and good governance, and environmental protection. In doing so, the Church should not act as Messiah or liberator but as a genuine humble servant cooperating with other people of good will. Thus, the Church must live up to her identity as Church of the Poor.

As a prophetic community, the Church has two-fold function: to announce and denounce.

Prophetic annunciation means proclaiming the Gospel message and Christian values. This is the task of new evangelization especially in light of the fact that majority of the people are nominal Christians, many of whom do not accept and live the Church’s teachings. This is also the task of renewed catechesis. There is much to be done to deepen the understanding of the faithful of the basic Christian doctrines, about the social and moral teachings of the Church. The teachings of the Church about marriage, sexuality, family, responsible parenthood, natural family planning method and the value of life should be inculcated in the schools, parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities. An ongoing political education based on social teachings of the Church should lead the members to vote wisely and to participate in the crusade for good governance.

The task of prophetic denunciation includes the exercise of the Church's role as  conscience of society. This means struggling against the culture of death and corruption.

While collaborating with the government in initiatives that promote the common good – such as poverty alleviation, good governance, peace and environmental protection - the Church must at all times maintain a critical stance. The Church will continue to denounce the government policies and laws that are contrary to common good, that promote the culture of death and that weaken the family. The negative effects of the RH Law needs to be exposed and denounced.  This includes  exposing how billions of pesos of tax payers money are spent on birth control and sex education, and less on actual poverty alleviation programs, better health care and affordable quality education for all, especially the poor.  The Church should not hesitate to exercise the critical function when the government fails to alleviate poverty, to protect the environment, achieve just and lasting peace, to implement genuine agrarian reform, to eradicate graft and corruption at all levels.

This servant and prophetic mission of the Church should be carried out not just by the bishops, priests and religious, but also the lay-faithful as well, especially by the renewal movements and the Basic Ecclesial Communities.

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