The Explainer: Church & State

That was Jeremy Irons playing an inquisitor in the movie Casanova, set in venice in the 17th century. This is our enduring image of the nosy, meddlesome, sinister priest. Why is it 300 yrs later, we’re still obsessed with priests ordering officials around? Don’t we have the separation of church and state?

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer
I. Church & State & Rome
This is the Explainer, where I explain to you why issues are issues. Every week I’ll have a designated explainee with me in the studio, who’ll be your companion in your weekly crash course in the issues. This week, we have Tricia Chiongbian with us. She’s a sports and entertainment reporter on ANC who’s gamely agreed to this public quest for answers. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in our discussion just text: EX <space> REACT <space> name backslash ADDRESS backslash your question and send to 2366 for Globe and Sun and 231 for Smart.

Yesterday the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines released a pastoral letter that had strong words for practically every sector in society. Some quarters were riled, some chastened. Yet others asked: should the church be interfering in matters of state?

I’ll leave you to answer that for yourselves but I mean to help you come up with an informed opinion.

I’ll explain the history behind this age-old issue… when the explainer returns


Our popular imagination tends to define the union of Church and State as evil; the word “Inquisition” continues to be a negative one.

That’s because the Inquisition represented Church and State working together to maintain the Church’s monopoly over conscience, even if required torture or persecution to do so.

In response to the Inquisition, in which churchmen tried ideas, and governments implemented punishments, the Age of Reason arose in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Instead of popes crowning kings, kings pushed the popes aside.

The long divorce of church and state continued, until the Church itself stopped fighting states on purely political levels. This didn’t mean, though, the Church would ignore politics. It engaged it in other ways.

A good example is how, confronted with a strong showing of Communist parties in Italy after WW2,

Pope Pius XII was said to have ordered even cloistered nuns to go out and vote to prevent a Communist victory in referendums.

Indeed John Paul II, resisted the Polish Communist government as Archbishop of Cracow and was credited with helping bring down Communism in Eastern Europe, not because he wanted to rule Poland, but because Polish Communism wanted to rule even men’s souls. Filipinos remember him for having criticized the martial law regime, and for speaking up for the poor in the face of Ferdinand & Imelda Marcos’s extravagance.
Recently, the President went to see the Pope, and says the Pope told her that the

Philippine clergy should stay out of politics. But what, exactly, does the

Pope and Catholicism teach about Church and State?

We have several documents that can help us.

There’s the Constitution of the Church’s governance, the Code of Canon Law: </exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=>

This specific provision: </exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=>

Or this: </exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=>

There’s something the Pope himself wrote, before he was Pope: </exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=>

It has a kilometric title, as you can see. But it basically says what constitutes acceptable grounds for political involvement: the usual deadly sins.

And there’s something he wrote as Pope: his first encyclical, Deus Caritas

Est, God is Charity:– </exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=>

As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to

justice would be just a bunch of thieves…

There’s something other bishops, such as the American version of the

CBCP, wrote: </exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=>

As the American bishops explained it, in time to influence the 2004 American presidential elections (illus. Passage in slide),

The Church is called to educate Catholics about our social teaching… The Catholic community’s participation in public affairs does not undermine, but enriches the political process and affirms genuine pluralism. Leaders of the Church have the right and duty to share Catholic teaching and to educate Catholics …


WELCOME BACK… THE ANSWER IS: politians and statesmen have a patron saint in St. Thomas More, proclaimed as such by John Paul II, because, as John Paul II proclaimed,

“it is helpful to turn to the example of Saint Thomas More, who distinguished himself by his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue.”

Our attitudes towards the Catholic Church continue to be colored by our historical memories of the Church and State in the Spanish era. The distinction didn’t exist. Catholicism was the justification for Spanish imperialism, and it was the clergy that often maintained Spanish authority in the colony.

Who was a priest involved questioning who should rule. Should it be a native clergy versus the Spanish religious?

The Propaganda Movement was profoundly critical of the Spanish clergy for so many reasons,

But one big reason the Father Damasos were among the targets of the revolution, is that they were foreigners. Thats’ why one of the priorities of the First Republic was the a Filipinized clergy, represented by the efforts of Gregorio Aglipay, appointed Vicar General by President Aguinaldo.

But whether it was our First Republic or every government since, one thing has been asserted constantly, and loudly since then: the division of Church and state.
We have to recall that for over a century, there has been no patronato real; no union of the civil and religious authorities. That isn’t to say politics and religion haven’t met, and clashed.

During the Commonwealth, the unicameral Philippine Assembly passed a law authorizing catchecism to be taught in public schools during class hours; President Quezon vetoed the bill; the Catholic archbishop of Cebu issued a pastoral letter defending the bill; the debate was a Church and State matter, though both sides insisted they respected the Constitution. The debate was whether religion could be taught during class hours. The church lost.

In the elections of 1953, after the disastrous election of 1949 in which the birds and the bees, the manananggal and the dead were said to have voted, the Catholic Church came out strongly for clean elections. The inevitable result was crediting the church with toppling President Elpidio Quirino and the election of Ramon Magsaysay; but what the Church wanted was clean elections.

There too, was the debate on the Rizal Law, which the Church opposed -and lost. During martial law, Marcos fought with the Church; and the Church came out in favor of clean elections; and bishops took the step of declaring the 86 elections so scandalous that the government had lost its moral right to govern. This decision was informed by the behavior and teachings of popes like John Paul II; and while Filipinos thereafter could ignore Cardinal Sin on purely political matters,

During Edsa Dos members of the clergy played a prominent role in what was viewed as a political crisis with a moral dimension. Except now that some bishops are critical of the President, the government insists on Church and state.

But as we’ve seen the Church hasn’t wanted to rule governments, but rather, wants governments ruled by something more than the fight for power. But is the Church blurring lines again? Is it out of synch with the times? When we return, we’ll get two views on this.

III. Discussion

The question really, then, does the separation of Church & State forbid the Church to comment on politics? Does that violate the separation of Church and State?

Guest: Dean Jorge Bocobo, former commentator, PDI, blogger, Philippine

Commentary: Manila Standard-Today columnist Jojo Robles.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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