The Long View: Forked tongue

Forked tongue

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Published on Page A11 of the June 29, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

CHRISTIANITY means turning the other cheek. So when the Palace slaps the Pope, he has to grin and bear it. The President claims the Pope, through her, wants Catholic bishops to cease and desist from commenting on issues such as Charter change. The Pope, she says, looks dimly upon ecclesiastical comments or participation in political issues.

What did Pope Benedict XVI say, regarding the Catholic Church and politics? In his first encyclical letter, “Deus Caritas Est” (this can easily be accessed on the Internet; any Catholic parish should be able to provide the curious citizen with a copy), he wrote the following:
First, he explained the Catholic interpretation of the separation of Church and State: “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.… Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God … 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.”

Second, he defined what politics should be about: “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.”

Third, on the Catholic Church’s social teachings, he said “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.”

Fourth, in rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what’s God’s, he said: “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.”

He explained that while “the formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the Church, but belongs to the world of politics…. The Church has an indirect duty here, in that she is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.”

In other words, the Church, through its bishops and priests, lays down moral guidelines and interprets them, insisting all the while that human behavior reflects the principles of Christian thought. What the Pope calls for is for Catholic citizens to take up the fight to make the teachings of their faith impact on political life: “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, 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.’ The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competencies and fulfilling their own responsibility. Even if the specific expressions of ecclesial charity can never be confused with the activity of the State, it still remains true that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and, therefore, also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity.’”
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Full disclosure: the Black and White Movement, as an organization, is a petitioner in the impeachment complaint against the President. I am one of the convenors of Black and White.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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