Why the CBCP does not choose candidates

MANILA, Philippines — Prior to 1965, the Catholic Church?s involvement in politics was largely unheard of. Since then, however, Church militancy in political affairs has increasingly become visible and audible. Why?

Second Vatican Council. The answer can be traced to the transformation of the Church, which was started by the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) that met in 1962 to 1965. Among many other reforms, Vatican II underscored the need for the Christians? total or integral development. This meant that believers must act out their faith in all facets of their being.

Integral development requires the faithful to use Gospel values wherever they are and in whatever they do. They should be Christians not only while praying in the churches or serving in charitable causes, but also in undertaking mundane activities like studying in school, working in offices or enjoying their leisure.

Christianity does not merely save souls for the next life; it also liberates humans from the oppressions of the present life to enable them to develop multi-dimensionally, that is, spiritually, economically, socially, culturally and politically. Thus, aside from teaching the sacraments, the Church is also pro-life, pro-poor, pro-environment, pro-human rights and pro-principle.

Specifically, “Christifideles Laici,” one of the 16 documents issued by Vatican II, asked the lay faithful “never to relinquish participation in public life.” Politics should not be shunned. Qualified Christians should be encouraged “to restore all things in Christ” in their public life.

Significantly, Vatican II emphasized the importance of the laity. Whereas in the past, lay involvement in the Church was regarded merely as assistance in the apostolate of the hierarchy, “Lumen Gentium” (another Vatican II issuance) proclaimed the “empowerment of the faithful” and their equality “in dignity and in mission” to the clergy. They are not mere deputies or helpers of priests; they are co-workers and collaborators in serving God.

Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. Echoing the teachings of Vatican II, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) was convened in Makati on Jan. 20 to Feb. 17, 1991. For the first time in the history of the Church, selected lay leaders were invited to participate in its “lawmaking” body. Involvement of Christians in public life was expressly delineated in PCP II Resolution 28, which I quote as follows:

“1. Lay men and women in responsible positions in our society must help form the civic conscience of the voting population and work to explicitly promote the election to public office of leaders of true integrity.

“2. Bishops, priests and religious, commonly identified as ‘the Church,’ must refrain from partisan politics, avoiding especially the use of the pulpit for partisan purposes to avoid division among the flock they shepherd.”

Note that the first paragraph encourages lay people “to explicitly promote the election to public office of leaders of true integrity.” On the other hand, the second paragraph urges the hierarchy to “refrain from partisan politics . . . to avoid division among the flock,” considering that most of the candidates are Catholics. As a lay participant in PCP II, I remember quite vividly the emphasis given during our deliberations to these distinct roles of the laity and the clergy.

As far as I know, the Holy See does not encourage direct clergy intervention in State or partisan affairs (like endorsing candidates), considering that the Universal Church is active in evangelical work not only in the Philippines but in many other countries, like China and Vietnam. Indeed, the evangelization mission of the Church would be hindered if the civil authorities in these countries became suspicious of its pastoral activities.

Prudence in partisan activities. Given this background, it is no wonder that Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), rejected the proposal of Bro. Mike Velarde “to choose candidates” for the May 14 senatorial elections. He explained that to “dictate on (the faithful) whom to vote for is as bad as buying their votes,” remembering that the CBCP has condemned the politics of “guns, goons and gold,” emphasis here on gold.

Note further that there is no national Catholic authority that can command such a choice or dictation. Each archdiocese/diocese in the country is autonomous and each archbishop/bishop is supreme within his jurisdiction, and is responsible directly to Rome, not to any local supreme religious head; not even to the CBCP.

Consistent with these pronouncements, bishops have generally been prudent in their election-related involvements, limiting themselves mostly to the issuance of “guidelines” for voters. Nonetheless, the hierarchy—pursuant to Resolution 28—has been actively supporting the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), because it is nonpartisan and adheres closely to the pronouncements of the CBCP.

In a call for visionary leaders by example, which was similar to my own call, the PPCRV has asked for the election of candidates who embody “principles, programs and performance” and the rejection of those who use “payoff, personality (or popularity) and patronage.”

To some critics, this may be an indirect and extremely cautious way of getting good people to public office. But the direct and confrontational method may be short-sighted and harmful to both the Church and the State in the long term.

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