Catholics & Politics

By Jose Ma Montelibano

Paoay Church (File Photo)

Paoay Church (File Photo)

Reality check: Politics in the Philippines, from the 16th century to the present, has been dominated by Catholics.

Therefore, asking for Catholics to enter politics and other social fields like business and other professions, for the purpose of cleansing these from corruption and abuse, is like asking for more of the same.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle did ask for the faithful of the Catholic Church to enter the infected fields of Philippine society, especially politics, and infuse these with Catholic virtues in the footsteps of Jesus. If all these areas had not already been the almost exclusive domain of Catholics, this exhortation would be meaningful. But, as it is, in the context of historical and current reality, the published exhortation made in the recent Holy Week is somewhat comic.

There is an old saying, “The pot is calling the kettle black,” that jumps to mind with a Catholic prelate asking the faithful to invade a corrupt or evil situation dominated by Catholics. This saying has, for a background, this meaning.

“This comes from old times when pots and pans were generally black and kettles were generally metallic and reflective. Therefore, the pots sees its own black reflection in the kettle and thinks the kettle is black.”

The state of politics, of public service through many other professions, has been Catholic through and through – except maybe among Muslims in their local settings. Even then, Catholics have dictated all along how Muslim affairs should be governed. That is why the Bangsamoro Basic Law is so radical, less for its perfection, but for the opportunity for Muslims to be finally governed by Muslins, not Catholics.

It does not mean, though, that Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has no need to exhort Catholics, just exactly what to exhort them towards. If he was so moved to push Catholics to cleanse politics and other major fields of social endeavor that had been eaten up by corruption, abuse, and other evils, he just needed to be reminded that Catholics caused this anomalies, or moral abnormalities. When he was calling for the faithful to reform politics et al, he forgot to mention that the unfaithful in the Church caused all these.

I believe that there must have been a very special and localized context that produced such an exhortation from the good Cardinal. It may have been that the audience he was address was not representative of Catholicism in the Philippines, but the more faithful among them who keep struggling to be Christian in behavior and not just in name. Maybe, the quality and refined morality of the audience before him induced him to call on these precisely good Catholics to invade politics, business and the other professions mangled and stained by other Catholics who were not behaving like true Catholics.

It must be that Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is inspired by the freshness and courage of the leadership of Pope Francis. I really believe so, and I hope that Pope Francis will be a constant model of inspirational leader for the Cardinal. It is Pope Francis who first called the pot black by making the Church hierarchy confront its shortcomings. The first reforms were internal, the first to be reformed were the leaders of the Church, cardinals and bishops, and even the rigidity of narrowness applied to Church teachings.

Following the example of Pope Francis and his own primary exhortation to priests and bishops, the most immediate and important in the context of reform was to “go to the people, go to the people.” As he was saying this, he had already began setting the tempo and the temper, putting the most basic and simple as primary, like shunning pomp for the ordinary, whether it be palaces and cars, or kissing the feet of non-Catholics, or women.

One feature so extremely refreshing and inspiring has been the welcoming attitude of Pope Francis, such a remarkable departure from the judgmental posture of both the Vatican and local Church hierarchies. The air of inclusivity and warmth reminds many of the public life of Jesus who was so immersed with the people, who sought them out with love and compassion, who healed and taught them, and who sacrificed life itself for them – regardless of Jew or Gentile.

Apparently, Pope Francis is more concerned about following the footsteps of Jesus rather than making the faithful follow the footsteps of the Church hierarchy. He does not seem to be concerned about the superiority of Catholicism but the invitation of love that Jesus extended to everybody – politician, tax collector or prostitute included. If some in the Church hierarchy and Catholic lay communities may be disturbed by the very fidelity and simplicity of Pope Francis’s example, it is only because they had become more confrontational than understanding, more judgmental than forgiving, more ritualistic than substantive.

It is less urgent for more Catholics to invade an already Catholic-dominated governance of major fields in Philippine society, and more urgent for Catholics to be more faithful to the teachings of their faith, and to be more sensitive to the accountability of being good children of God and their motherland.

Personally, I just hope that the brand of Catholics in Philippine politics, business and all other professions become an awesome source of inspiration. For too long, poverty and corruption have been allowed to grown as the nation’s and people’s gravest cancers, so anathema to the Church’s preferential option for the poor and the path of service of Jesus Himself. So great a challenge is upon us all.


10 Responses. Have your say.

  1. ben oteyza says:

    Judge not, lest ye be judged!
    We are all sinners. Saints were sinners, too. Only Jesus Christ is sinless !
    Catholics and Protestants are Christians! Not perfect, making mistakes.
    You respect Pope Francis. Must also respect our own Luis Cardinal Tagle. In time, Filipinos shall be extremely proud of Cardinal Tagle, who himself is not perfect. Jesus Christ was not accepted by Galilleans, as they know him as the son of the carpenter and was going to throw him down the cliff !
    Yes, as you said, there are good and bad Catholics. The Philippine Catholic government officials may be corrupt, but not all of them are. The good ones must be found and be elected by the electorate, who must be selective and know who to trust to lead! They must have faith, be enlightened and listen to the good archbishop, His Eminence, Cardinal Tagle. He will be an exemplary Filipino Catholic leader !

  2. Jose Samilin says:

    Our very own Cardinal Tagle understand our people and continue to enlighten the truth of this people in this modern world. Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, but their senseless minds were darkened and they served the creature rather than the Creator.

  3. Jose Samilin says:

    The church remains holy and forgiving as she calls everyone to holiness, though how many times we fail. What divine revelation makes known to us agrees with experience. Examining his heart, man finds that he has inclinations toward evil too, and is engulfed by manifold ills which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship to his own ultimate goal as well as his whole relationship toward himself and others and all created things.

    Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out that “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who held him in the bondage of sin.(4) For sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment. (Gaudium et spes)

  4. Macario Corsame says:

    Arguably, the most honest and God-fearing politician in recent Philippine history was/is a Protestant: Jovito R. Salonga. But there were honest, incorrupt Catholics too. Among them were Ramon Magsaysay and Emmanuel Pelaez.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      Please, the church should really stay out of politics. There are so many religious leaders that are as phony as they come. They all act like their shit doesn’t stink and that they couldn’t do anything wrong and all their sins can be wiped out by telling the guy above he’s sorry, and at the same time he’s already thinking of what’s he going to do with the money that the church had collected from his congregation. These people sometimes lived better than some of the well to do. They lived in mansions, being driven around in expensive cars, eat really well and everything is catered to them. These people are nothing but savvy salesman and will tell you things that you want to hear, just like those rotten politicians.

  5. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    I partly agree with Cardinal Tagle but why not endorse and support a particular candidate for, let’s say the presidency?

    I’m sure the Church will not support any of the known presidential aspirants at present but would rather pick someone politically unknown from among the better minds in PHL society with good moral character. The Bishop-Businessman Conference can be the forum for selection.

    When the Church picked and supported Cory, at least the transition from post martial law up to present Cory constitution was successful.

    Encouraging Catholics in general will not do well for the country for it will result to status quo like Mr. Montelibano commented.

    Be specific in endorsing a particular candidate in the Executive level, etc.

    Further, I used the word CHURCH to mean not only the Catholic Church, being the dominant one, but other churches as well within the purview of generally accepted spiritual and moral doctrine that we know.

    • Jose Samilin says:

      Grace Communion International writes,”While we can be tempted to express our views on political issues, we are admonished by Jesus Christ to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).”

      In more details:

      Announcing Political Stands May Threaten Churches’ Tax Status

      New York — Church lawyers are laying down some strict guidelines on what religious organizations can — and cannot — do in…political campaigning. The key warning is that they must not support or oppose specific candidates, or seem by implication to do so since it would endanger a church’s tax exemption [in the United States].

      Attorneys for the country’s two largest Christian groups — Baptists and Roman Catholics — have issued lengthy instructions for church organizations on avoiding partisan political activity….

      The Internal Revenue Service “has a newfound enthusiasm for scrutiny of religious organizations,” says Mark E. Chopko, general counsel of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Citing restrictions laid down in the IRS code on tax exemptions for religious organization, he advises: “During an election campaign, exempt organizations remain free to address issues of concern to them and to their membership…. However, such discourse must focus on issues and not personalities.”

      Oliver S. Thomas, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, advises that churches, to avoid jeopardizing their tax-exempt status, must heed the following rules: Don’t support or oppose a candidate directly or indirectly, whether in a sermon, church newsletter, sample ballot or by financial means. Avoid pejorative labels when mentioning a candidate by name.

      Don’t provide volunteers, mailing lists, publicity, nor distribute or display campaign literature on church premises or provide free use of facilities unless made available equally to all parties and candidates.

      However, both Catholic and Baptist advisories note that churches may hold non-partisan public forums or debates where all candidates have a chance to state their views and distribute their literature.

      The sponsoring church organization, however, must not present its views on the topics discussed. Thomas says: “It is advisable for the organization, in introducing a candidate, to state clearly and emphatically that the views of the candidate are not necessarily the views of the church and no endorsement is intended by the candidate’s presence.”

      Nevertheless…religious organizations have a constitutional right to take sides on political issues, so long as their views aren’t explicitly applied for or against specific candidates.

      “In reality, participation in the public debate on important issues inevitably overlaps with positions taken by certain candidates,” Chopko observes. “Nonetheless, issue-oriented speech is protected by the first amendment of the Constitution, and is entirely proper.”

      Also, church employees and officials may participate freely in the political campaigning as individuals, providing it is made clear they are not acting as representatives of the church. “If a diocesan or parish official speaks at a rally supporting a particular candidate, he should avoid being introduced in his official capacity,” Chopko says.

      Thomas also stresses that point, adding that if a minister is involved, and mention is made of his church, there should also be a disclaimer making clear he is not speaking on the church’s behalf.

      “Separating the minister’s role as an individual voter from his role as a church leader is always difficult,” Thomas says, adding: “A minister should never endorse a candidate from the pulpit, even though he might insist he is speaking in his individual capacity.”

      George W. Cornell, Associated Press

  6. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    Bobby and Mr. Samilin your comments are well taken. They hit my head on target and I said to myself ouch and ‘aray ko po’.

    Allow me to make a ‘palusot’ (whether lulusot o’ hindi) since I said I agree partly with Cardinal Tagle.

    I know of one church in PHL where politicians during election campaign troop there for support. Once selected by the church hierarchy the candidate names are announced (I do not know if via the pulpit) to guide members who to vote.

    I believe in the separation of state and church per the constitution and of course, according to my conscience.

    As we can see, there was an exempted time that the most influential church had to intervene for the good of the country (to end dictatorship, avoid further public disturbance, etc.) and it happened when Cardinal Sin protected Cory, and led the people to halt the advancing military.

    To many, it was a cardinal sin that Fr. Jaime committed, spiritually and civilly. May he rest in peace for I do not believe in Dante’s Purgatory.

    As I explained in previous commentary, the Bishop-Businessmen Conference, possibly an affiliate of CBCP, maybe the proper forum instead of the pulpit, where to address the issue on preferred presidential candidate by the church in coordination with business people.

    With the nation’s recent background on anomalies after anomalies, unabated misused of public money, dynast after dynast for many years, and the hopelessness of the poor, I consider the next presidential election an exempted time where the church shall likely support a preferred candidate outside the pulpit, to help the country in coursing it to the right direction.

    This is my last reaction under this article. Thanks for the time and space of Mr. Montelibano. I like the article very much and others’ commentary, as well.

  7. staad7 says:

    the politics of nepotism in the phil gets its model from the hierarchical system of the rcc. same like the mafias.

    u must understand even the concept of slavery and subordination was unhindered or unobjected by roman Catholicism throughout the centuries. it fits their model.

    what we need are leaders, people of convictions unaffiliated with religious affinity in any kind of organization.

    otherwise we will revolve over and over again with this firefighting process that has no direction or vision.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      Agreed, but you’re going to be hard press in finding these type of people in our country, not in this lifetime anyway. These terrible mess that we’re experiencing right now is our own doing, we alone are responsible for it because time and time again, we continue to elect these worthless individuals. We need to pull our heads out of our assess, find a way to get our common sense back and stop electing these so called “mambabatas” into positions that does nothing but put the screws to us. Mga kababayan, gamitin naman ninyo ang inyong mga utak ng bumuti ang ating bansa, wag kayong makuha sa mga pangakong isinulat sa hangin.

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