The Palace indeed should be happy. Despite the best efforts of the anti-GMA Mass Media (the few of them that are left still slugging it out) to cherry-pick the Bishops' missive for anti-GMA sentiments that can be turned into headlines, the plain truth is that the Catholic Bishops simply will not be the final straw that breaks the camel's back.
The CBCP's Pastoral Letter, in my opinion, is a strict application of Pope Benedict XVI's ideas on the Separation of Church and State contained in a Christmas Day Encyclical, God is Love, the first of his Papacy. I have bolded the passages of Article 28 in that Papal Encyclical, which I think the Philippine Catholic Bishops were deeply discerning about during their special Plenary Session these past three days, and which guided their own Pastoral Letter.
The careful reader will notice that most of the b0lded passages above are followed by the words "Rather" and "Yet" which introduce the opposite idea or sentiment, or qualifies it in some usually even-handed sounding way. But can such readers honestly shake the feeling that Pope Benedict is saying the Church is not responsible for what happens in the realm that Politics is responsible for? The Pope says that the Church is deeply concerned that Justice be done in temporal realm but that she is not ultimately responsible for such an outcome because her Kingdom is not of this Earth.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 25 December, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, in the year 2005, the first of my Pontificate.[Article] 28. In order to define more accurately the relationship between the necessary commitment to justice and the ministry of charity, two fundamental situations need to be considered:
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
a) The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”. Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere. The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.
Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.
Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.
The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. It recognizes that it is not the Church's responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, 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 also 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.
The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.b) Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable. The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.
I think that this is a stance that deserves a recollection of Pontius Pilate, but I haven't the strength for that as yet. Though of course it jives with one very commonly held misconception of the Principle of Separation of Church and State: that the Church is not supposed to "interfere" in Politics. I think it is wrong to hold that religious professionals such as the Bishops -- the technicians of morality -- are prohibited from exercising certain Constitutional Duties incumbent on every citizen by the Principle of the Separation of Church and State. Now, the Catholic Bishops themselves seem to agree with this, and that is their new excuse for monumental equivocation on Gloriagate, the basic story of their recent Pastoral Letter, here reproduced in full:
(Pastoral statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines)Cardinal Sin really is dead, silly!
Beloved People of God:
1. We, your bishops, have collectively discerned in the light of the Gospel what our mass media, our political leaders and, above all, you parishioners in our various dioceses have been telling us. What clearly emerges is the continued and urgent need for renewal in the public life of our country.
I. Our Pastoral Situation: What Our People Are Saying
2. We have all observed the failure of political processes to make public servants accountable for wrongdoing. What we have seen instead are acts of evasion and obstruction of the truth, as in the case of the wiretapping and Garcillano tapes controversy. While we acknowledge that patriotic and sincere Filipinos have heeded our call in July 2005 for accountability in public office and sought means for the truth to emerge, we also witness those who seem to use "the search for truth" as a means of furthering their political ambitions. Pressure is thus brought on the ordinary citizen to take sides on the basis of speculation, whether this be with regard to destabilizing alliances, armed insurgency, or a brewing coup d’état. Have we become a nation of rumors and untruths?
3. As a result of all this, there seems to be a paralyzing gridlock in the political sphere, as partisan interests prevail over the demands of the common good. Enough of this destructive politics, we hear our people declare. In this situation of widespread confusion, it is not surprising that apathy and cynicism with regard to politics have taken hold of the minds and hearts of many Filipino. Tragically, many Filipinos have lost trust in political leaders from left, right, and center, and worse still, in the political institutions themselves which are perceived by many to be corrupted. Among an increasing number of our people, there is a sense of hopelessness about our country and the possibility of genuine reform.
4. While the economy at the macro-level seems to be moving along, the benefits are not sufficiently shared by the poor. What the people in our dioceses are experiencing and saying informs us that their most immediate and urgent priority is their daily struggle to earn a livelihood. Poverty remains the heaviest burden our people bear. They wonder if the political priorities that preoccupy our leaders are merely "Manila-magnified" problems foisted upon those in the provinces. They are seriously concerned that in 2006 we shall be repeating the same kind of chaotic politics that we all suffered in 2005.
II. The Root of the Crisis: Erosion of Moral Values
5. As bishops, we believe that at the bottom of our political chaos is a crisis of moral values, a crisis of truth and justice, of unity and solidarity for the sake of the common good and genuine peace. Truth has become a victim of political partisanship as well as of transactional politics. Moral accountability and justice for crimes, such as the killings of journalist and labor leaders, are yet to be realized.
6. Because of this crisis of values in our public life, the common good and the plight of the poor are being ignored. We witness the anguish of poor farmers affected by rising prices of farm inputs and decreasing prices for their products. Indigenous people, farmers and fishermen in our diocese are filled with anxiety about the negative effects of mining, commercial logging, illegal quarrying and fishing, and the continual threat of displacement from one’s ancestral lands. More regrettable is the common knowledge that many of our politicians are behind such ventures that disregard the common good.
7. As Bishops, we realize that the root cause of our debilitating situation is the erosion of moral values. Its external manifestations are deceit and dishonesty, corruption, manipulation and a deadening preoccupation with narrow political interests, perceived in practically all branches and at all levels of government. Pope Benedict XVI cites St. Augustine’s observation that "a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves." (Deus Caritas Est, 28)
8. But we also recognize that our situation is not one of utter darkness. We are encouraged and inspired to see so many good and decent Filipinos, of different faith traditions, working selflessly and sincerely to build up our nation. We see public servants struggling for integrity and the authentic reform of the corrupted institutions they are part of. We acknowledge groups of dedicated laity, religious and clergy, NGOs and various associations, including police and military personnel, giving of themselves to improve the governance, education, health, housing, livelihood and environmental conditions of our people. These people, united by a vision of heroic citizenship, are reasons for hope, even in the midst of the political crisis we find ourselves in.
III. What We Need to Do
9. The mission of the Church includes the renewal of the social order and public life through the teaching and inculcation of the values of the Gospel. Because of the moral dimensions of our political and economic life, "The Church has something to say about specific human situations, individual and communal, national and international." (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 521) "Any authentic search for peace", the Holy Father stresses, "must begin with the realization that the problem of truth and untruth is the concern of every man and woman." (In Truth, Peace, No. 5) Let us all therefore address the urgent issues facing our country from this moral standpoint:
* We recommend that the search for truth be relentlessly pursued through structures and processes mandated by law and our Constitution, such as the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit, the Commission on Human Rights, the Sandiganbayan, and Congress itself as well as other citizens’ groups. This requires that such bodies be led and run by credible people, persons of integrity and probity.
* Confidence and trust in our political processes have to be restored. As a first step we strongly urge our political leaders to undertake electoral reforms posthaste. The Commission on Elections has to be transformed into a competent and reliable body beyond reproach. The call for resignation or even prosecution of a number of the Commissioners should not be lightly brushed aside. The electoral process, including counting of votes, needs to be reformed and modernized before the next elections.
* Elections in 2007 should not be cancelled. The Church recognizes that in a democracy power emanates from the people - i.e., that "the subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety…This people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects…but it preserves the prerogative…(of) evaluating those charged with governing, and in replacing them when they do not fulfill their functions satisfactorily." (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 395).
* While we agree that certain aspects of our Constitution may need amendments and revisions, we do not support hasty efforts to change this fundamental law of the land without the widespread discussion and participation that such changes require. We continue to believe, as we did in our Statement on Charter Change in 2003, that changing the Constitution involving major shifts in the form of government requires widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate. This is best done through a Constitutional Convention. The reasons for constitutional change must be based on the common good rather than on self-serving interests or the interests of political dynasties.
* We reiterate our stand in our July 2005 statement that we do not condone resort to violence or counter-constitutional means in resolving our present crisis. These measures would only bring about new forms of injustice, more hardships, and greater harm in the future.
10. We are aware that the renewal of Philippine public life will require the transformation of cultural values and structures, and will require more intensive efforts on the part of the Church. We therefore commit ourselves to the following:
* To adopt a more systematic program of promoting the moral values that are indicated in seven (of the nine) pastoral priorities drawn up at the 2001 National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal. These are: integral faith formation; empowerment of the laity towards social transformation; the active presence and participation of the poor in the Church and in society; the family as the focal point of evangelization; the building and strengthening of participatory communities that make up the parish; integral renewal of the clergy and religious; and our journeying with the youth.
* To continue the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities and other faith-communities at the grassroots, towards a deeper spirituality of heroic Christian citizenship, and towards encouraging the laudable efforts of these communities at nation-building, such as the monitoring of the IRA, bidding of public works projects, etc.
* To promote a spirituality of public service, integrity and stewardship among public servants and citizens’ groups alike. These forms of social spirituality should counteract the persistent evils of gambling, drug pushing, usury, destruction of our environment, and corruption in public office.
* To bring together various concerned citizens’ groups that are working for good governance in order to encourage better collaboration among them in the mobilization of the governed to check graft and corruption and to work for better public services.
* To declare this year 2006 as a "Social Concerns Year" under the auspices of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Social Teachings of the Church, as summarized in the recently printed Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, may be discussed, internalized, and acted upon in all our dioceses, parishes and Catholic schools.
* To accompany our efforts with prayer and penance and a deep trust in the transformative power of God’s grace in the lives of individuals as well as of societies. "Restore us to Thee, O Lord, that we may be restored" (Lam 5:21).
11. In all we have been saying here, we, your Bishops, are seeking to be faithful to the Lord’s command of love, and his call to his followers to care for all peoples, especially those whom he sees as the "least of my brothers and sisters" (Mt. 25, 40). It is this Gospel mandate we wish to see making a qualitative difference in our efforts at healing and renewing our flawed political culture and corrupted public life. In doing this, we show our solidarity with the poor who suffer most from the present state of public life and politics.
12. May the love of God in Christ, poured out upon all of us in the Holy Spirit, give us the courage and hope to renew our public life and to build up a truly moral society. And may Mary become our guide and model in this renewed pilgrimage towards Truth, Justice, Freedom and Love - the pillars of genuine peace in our land.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D.
Archbishop of Jaro
29 January 2006