Saturday, July 1, 2006

Bishop Iniguez Separates the Church From the State

Several closely related questions of public interest need elucidation in the wake of Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iniguez's decision to sign the second impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the subsequent attacks from Palace adjuvants mumbling something about separation of church and state.

(1) Does a Bishop or other high ranking member of the Catholic Church hierarchy have the right under the Constitution to participate in "partisan political activities" such as the filing of impeachment complaints, as Bishop Iniguez did?
The relevant provision is:
1987 Constitution Bill of Rights Art III Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
It appears incontrovertible that yes, even if they wear funny hats, Catholic Bishops most definitely have the right and the duty to participate fully in politics, just like any other ordinary citizen of the Republic. Apart from voting in elections, Bishops are even allowed to "meddle" in politics, no more and no less than any other citizen. Yet it is widely misconceived that that Separation of Church and State means that churchmen may not involve themselves in partisan politics. It most indubitably does NOT mean that. But here is a more difficult question:

(2) Does the Catholic Church, as an organized religion, as a nondemocratic, indeed hierarchical-monarchic-theocratic community of believers, have the right under the Constitution to participate in "partisan political activities"? Would it be legal for example, for the CBCP itself to become an institutional signatory to the impeachment complaints?

During the controversy over certain Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohamed last year, I had come to the conclusion that the individual's "freedom of religion" as vouchsafed by democratic Constitutions, is a logical extension of the perhaps more basic constitutional right of every person to be secure in his own person and that of his home and his possessions, including his thoughts, opinions and hence, his religious beliefs. The freedom of religion in other words, is really a special case of exercising the freedom of speech and expression. Carrying forward this metaphor, what are to make of an organized religion like the Roman Catholic Church? In my opinion, churches are exercises in the freedom of peaceful assembly. They are like NGOs perpetually engaged in demonstrations and rallies that they call "the liturgy of worship." Or, churches may be regarded as equivalent to newspapers, both being forms of "organized opinion" as far as the Constitution and the State are concerned. Freedom of Religion IS Freedom of Speech and Expression.

ERGO: Yes! the Catholic Church itself, or any subset of its membership banding together as an assembly of individual citizens, may legally participate in the democratic process of impeaching the Chief Executive, by signing one of the complaints. Various churches through the ages have already been exercising such freedoms of assembly and expression during election season, when they openly or discreetly endorse political candidates. Or, as in the case of Bro. Eddie, when they actually have run for the Presidency and there was no talk of Separation of Church and State.

(3) Does the Catholic Church, as a matter of its own internal laws and policies, allow Bishops or other high ranking officers to particpate in "partisan political activities."?

Deus Caritas Est ("God Is Love")--Pope Benedict's first encyclical as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church -- which is being mentioned in the news in connection with the Palace's criticism of Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iniguez decision to sign the current impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. When asked by Dong Puno about the propriety of his action he quoted or referred to this passage from the Encyclical:
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.
This is about as finely balanced as the Constitutional provision on the neutrality of the State relative to Religion. But there is clearly no blanket prohibition against participating in politics. What there is, is a carefully calibrated and modernized version of "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God, what is God's."

As such, it actually boils down to the individual consciences of Bishops and clergy. And as such, the Palace may now have further sleepless night. For there is one thing about the Catholic Bishops. They tend to stick to together on most things. Once one or more of them take a strong moral stand and make a strong moral judgment, as Bishop Iniguez has done, the tendency is for his colleagues to let him run with the ball and for everyone to start coming off the fence.

No wonder Bishop Iniguez set off alarm bells at the Palace.


Anonymous said...

The link above says that the bishops were given a copy earlier than GMA.The president makes it apear that the bishop Yniguez has not read the encyclical;much worse she makes it look like that she is the first one to be given a copy.

Anonymous said...

Here are the contents of the link above:

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI gave our President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a
copy of his Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”—the same which he gave to all Bishops
much earlier this year.

The Pope writes in that encyclical “The just ordering of society and the state
is a central responsibility of politics. As St. Augustine once said, a state
which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves.”
(No. 28a) It is a strong statement worth remembering. This is what Bishop
Deogracias Iniguez has quoted in presenting his personal position of siding with
the Kapisanan ng Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME). He clearly states that he is not
bringing the CBCP in this personal option regarding the issue of impeachment.

Therefore, the CBCP respects Bishop Iñiguez personal option and will not go with
the suggestion of Malacañang to sanction him because he also agrees with CBCP
statements on Politics and Moral Values.

The pertinent statement of Pope Benedict XVI worth quoting is the following:
“The Church’s social teaching argues 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 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.

Anonymous said...

And please allow me one more comment.

Pope John Paul II already gave his opinion on the rights of citizens.

I say opinion because ,they treat encyclicals as gospel truth.

John-Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centissimus Annus proclaimed that

‘the Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, and guarantees the governed the possibility of both electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.’

Juan said...

Just to have an idea, with the Constitutional and Canonical, the Legal and Ecclesial issues out of the way, what’s your political analysis and prognosis about the Church’s role in the present and imminent scenario?

Rizalist said...

The Church, FVR and the US are special in the sense that they are what I call "veto holders." Though none of them can tell the President what to do, any one of them can more or less "veto" anything she might be inclined to do or is doing. For example chacha is something the Bishops have now "vetoed." It is essentially dead because of that, on top of the Constitutional problems along the way for Sigaw and JDV. My feeling is that Gloria is already telling JDV he has to wait till 2010. She will sacrifice chacha for the impeachment being killed. That is because she has no real stake in chacha, little to gain and it seems she has lost the Church over it. Of course the impeachmentis "lifethreatening" and though they have the numbers, they will have to go to the well for a second time. That could be the last of their political capital with media and the public and civil society.

As for being a veto holder, the Church will not now probably veto her falling from power as they did last year, even if they may not take positive steps themselves to overthrow. If the situation arises, they will let it.

Anonymous said...

That,I think is the best analysis and prognosis I have heard so far!

JM, thanks for asking for it.