The Church in our political life

Our Constitution enshrines the inviolability of the separation of Church and State, and reinforces the principle by further stipulating that no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. On the other hand, Mark 12:17 mentions that one must “pay to the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God”.

These precepts from the basic law of our land and the Bible came to mind amid the recent vigorous exchanges of views between the leaders of the Catholic Church and Malacañang. This seeming conflict is not anymore unusual.

The current stand of the Catholic Church about the policies of the Duterte administration was fully articulated in its January 30, 2017, pastoral letter, where the bishops communicated their deep concern with the many deaths and killings in the campaign against prohibited drugs, the worsening of the lives of the families of those killed and the reign of terror in many poor communities. To top it all, our Church leaders are shocked by the indifference and apathy of many to these events, as if the latter were just normal and, sometimes, just have to be done.

Divided flock

While some fully nod while listening to this letter being read, some uneasily squirm in their seats. Perhaps, a true reflection of the great divide among our citizens’ perception on where the Church should situate itself in trying times like these, here in the country and abroad. Interestingly, the debates about when, how and why should the Church participate in our political life date back to both the Spanish and American colonial eras. It is an institution so deeply entrenched and part of our way of living that one cannot discount its potent power to install, enthrone, destroy and remove any public official. One shouldn’t forget the tremendous role Cardinal Sin played in the Edsa revolution; the nonsupport for Joseph Estrada in the elections due to his rumored “womanizing” ways; the participation of bishops Gaudencio B. Rosales and Socrates B. Villegas in whisking off a witness with the “Hello, Garci” tapes from his safe house to the military; and its refusal to join the peoples’ demand for President Arroyo to resign in the height of the scandals. The significance of how the Church can impact politics should not be disregarded.

But should the Church and our political leaders fight for who is in the hearts and minds of the Filipinos?

It need not be so. While the State and the Church have different jurisdictions—the State taking care of the basic material and economic needs of its citizens and the Church the spiritual purpose and ends of the ecclesia. They both minister to the wants and desires of the same group of people with the ultimate goal of achieving the common good. As such, there is strategic advantage for both to work together in a collaborative but discerning environment.

Inherent differences

AS Fr. Alex Balatbat, my friend in the clergy, advocated, “the Church and State must agree to disagree, and allow both sides to perform their distinct functions, which are both geared toward the best welfare of our people”. Furthermore, he said, “like husbands and wives, disagreements and opposing views should be treated as normal and not be a basis to be violent against each other. Instead, differences should make the relationship stronger”.

The Church is a strong, influential social force, while the government has vast resources and capabilities. Putting them together and achieving unity of purpose will forge a formidable partnership for the improvement of the Filipino lives. We have seen this throughout our history as a people and as a nation. Leaders come and go both within these two groups but the institutions remain. There is still so much to be done, and the partnership between these institutions should drive us to greatness once more.

And so the Proverbs say, “without wise leadership, a nation is in trouble,” and that “Godliness exalts a nation”.

Moving forward together is divinely possible.


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