Monday, June 8, 2009

Church People in Politics II

In last month’s Afterthoughts, I wrote about the lay ministers (Alagads) of Bukidnon and their decision about the possibility of their running for elective office in government even while serving as BEC officers. This was a reversal of a previous policy of not holding leadership roles in the Church concurrently with civil ones. The change was made in view of the nation’s desperate need of principled politicians—a new breed of public servants who will be truly men and women of unselfish service to their constituents, the exact opposite of the “trapos” who make a mockery of the name “public servant” and are the cause of much of what is wrong with our nation today.

In last month’s column, I failed to mention a deciding factor in the change of policy regarding the Alagads’ entry into politics. It was the realization that by taking on the role of Church ministers, they didn’t lose their lay status, and therefore still had all the rights and obligations of their lay state. Their vocation as laity remained intact for the sanctification primarily of family and the work place.

In this month’s column, I’d like to look at another kind of Church people in politics, more specifically, at clerics running for elective office in government. It is a development that seems to be on the increase not only here in the Philippines but elsewhere too, in developing nations especially.

The usual arguments against priest-politicians is that the doctrine of the separation of Church and State forbids clerics from government roles and Church law likewise forbids the same. The first argument does not seem conclusive as priests do not lose citizenship rights by becoming ordained ministers of the Church. The second argument is the more cogent one as it is a direct prohibition from the positive law of the Church. The law is there, but it strikes me that no reasons are given for the prohibition. Canon lawyers—and Church historians—should be able to enlighten us on how the prohibition came about. For it is a relatively recent development if we consider how bishops and cardinals often held high government posts all through the Middle Ages in Europe. There wasn’t any problem where there was union of Church and State as in Spanish times in the Philippines, for instance, when Archbishops of Manila sometimes held the post of Governor of the islands. The change came about, it seems, as a result of the Enlightenment.

Whatever reasons are advanced from civil or Church law against clerics holding elective posts in government, I wonder whether the greatest reason is the verdict I once heard farmers in Bukidnon pronounce over too much political activity on the part of priests: dili angay—it is not fitting, it is not kosher. As far as I could see, they didn’t think it was right for a priest to wield influence in one sphere (the religious) and to use the same in another (the civil or political).

I agree wholeheartedly. The reform of our political culture is primarily the task of the laity. Pope Benedict says as much in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.. Hence it seems for clerics to turn politician is to usurp the role and responsibility of the laity. And if they insist on doing so, it seems the proper thing for them is to be laicized completely, re-assume all the rights and responsibilities of lay folk by becoming laicized. A priest who suffers the penalty of suspension while holding a political job seems to me to be having his cake and eating it too, as the pithy saying goes, for even in suspension a priest remains a priest and the possibility of returning to the clerical state is always open to him.

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