Thursday, March 20, 2008

For RP Bishops, the best and the worst of times

The Church is the assembly of the people of God, incorporated into Christ through baptism. Both visible and spiritual, human and divine, it subsists in the Catholic Church as a society structured with hierarchical organs, and composed of the clergy, the laity, and the religious.

The Catholic Church is headed by the Roman Pontiff as successor to Saint Peter, Bishop of the Church of Rome, head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and Pastor of the universal Church here on earth. He fulfills his office as supreme Pastor of the Church always in full communion with the other bishops. Together, they form the college of bishops.

By divine institution, Bishops are successors to the Apostles. They are constituted pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship, and the ministers of governance. By their episcopal consecration, they receive the offices of sanctifying, teaching, and ruling, which they are to exercise in hierarchical communication with the Pope and the other Bishops.

They are called diocesan Bishops when put in charge of a diocese; otherwise they are called titular Bishops. They are bound to teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to behavior. They are to preach frequently and to ensure that the various canons on the ministry of the word, especially on the homily and catechetical instruction, are faithfully observed, so that the whole of Christian teaching is transmitted to all.

Everything you have read thus far is taken from the Code of Canon Law or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. None of it is the writer’s own. It is imperative that we start with an authoritative statement on what a Bishop is, and what he is supposed to do, before we examine certain concerns that have been expressed about them in relation to the political questions of the day.

This is not an easy time for Filipino Bishops. The country is predominantly Catholic, but its main staple is politics and graft and corruption its inexhaustible topic. Many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, expect the Bishops to lead their political fight. They will damn them if they don’t; but many others will damn them if they do. The Bishops cannot choose one side against the other. They have to serve both, and they can do so only by doing exactly what the Church asks them to do.

Much of the grievance stems from the refusal of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to join the call for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s resignation in the face of alleged bribery in the now scuttled $329.5-million National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE contract. Exacerbated no doubt by the restrictions imposed by some Bishops on the use of the Holy Mass for the so-called “search for truth,” featuring the star witness in the Senate probe of the aborted NBN-ZTE deal.

My own objection to the Arroyo presidency long antedates that of her former allies who now want her head. I have written countless articles and at least two books since 2002 on the subject, and lost a Senate seat in 2004 for calling her illegitimate in all my campaign speeches. But I am not prepared to let the Bishops do what I must by right and duty do as a lay citizen.

It is for us lay citizens, not for the Bishops, to demand her resignation. The duty of the Bishops is to denounce evil wherever it exists. But they are not required to identify the evildoer, or prescribe his criminal or civil punishment. If the evildoer kneels before a Bishop in confession, the latter’s duty is not to send him to jail but to ask him to do penance, to restitute what he has stolen, and to sin no more.

The Church’s teaching is clear.

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) says: “The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system, nor does she claim competence in proposing solutions to concrete political and economic problems.”

The Cathecism restates this with an added quote from Centisimus Annus: “The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen.” “It is part of the Church’s mission,” the Catechism continues, again quoting Gaudium et Spes, “to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or salvation of souls requires it.”

On June 2, 2001, in a gentle and fraternal rebuke to the Bishops for their active role in the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada, then Archbishop (now Cardinal) Jean-Louis Tauran, as Secretary for Relations with States for the Holy See and the Pope’s representative, restated the Church’s teaching with utmost delicacy and clarity, emphasizing the need for “prudence, discernment, and a firm anchorage in the role of the Church vis-à-vis the political community.”

“This is a fundamental point to keep in mind,” Tauran said, “if we have to avoid treading on legitimately established institutions and exposing the Church to accusations of political interference, compromising in the process the prophetic charism of the Church to denounce evil, the credibility of her preaching, and the force of her pronouncements.”

He reminded the Bishops always “to speak with well-pondered words and to act with utmost caution to keep clear of political manipulations,” and to remember that “the Church is Gospel-bound to exercise charity for all and at all times.”

However, the political temptation is strong. Well-meaning laymen and women are the first to drag the most vulnerable clerics into political issues, the resolution of which lies strictly within the laity’s exclusive competence. Very little respect is shown the fact that the Code of Canon Law expressly bans clerics---and religious---from partisan politics, public office, and business enterprise.

The most vulnerable clerics and religious end up believing that politics has become their mission and charism, and that they have specific concrete solutions to problems that are within the laity’s exclusive province. They call on laymen and women to obey them while they are in the act of disobeying Church law or doctrine.

This appears to be the case of clerics and religious reported to have defied the instruction of their Bishops not to use the Holy Mass for any political road show. Since high churchmen did it during the anti-Marcos campaign in 1986, and the anti-Estrada campaign in 2000-2001, activist clerics and religious can only look at the Bishops’ U-turn as proof that they had been coopted by Mrs. Arroyo.

In fact, the Bishops have merely decided to correct two historic mistakes and finally reaffirm correct Church doctrine.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice, says Canon 897, is “the summit and source of all worship and Christian life. By means of it the unity of God’s people is signified and brought about, and the building up of the body of Christ is perfected.” The Eucharistic celebration is “an action of Christ himself and of the Church” (Can. 899). The faithful, therefore, are to hold the blessed Eucharist in the highest honor (Can. 898).

Redemptionis Sacramentum, Instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on April 23, 2004, declares:

“78. It is not permissible to link the celebration of Mass to political or secular events, nor to situations that are not fully consistent with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it is altogether to be avoided that the celebration of Mass should be carried out merely for show, or in the manner of other ceremonies including profane ones, lest the Eucharist should be emptied of its authentic meaning.”

“But what are the Bishops afraid of? We only want to celebrate a ‘Mass for Truth.’ Are they for or against the truth?” So goes the argument.

This is sophistry at its worst. The Mass belongs to Christ and the Church and may not be appropriated by anyone for his own purposes. The Mass is the memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ, who says, ‘I am the way, the truth, the life.’ The Mass is Truth. So not even the Pope will probably think of celebrating a “Mass for Truth.”

The Bishops deserve a vote of thanks for trying to uphold Church teaching which they had failed to do before. But they could have done a much better job in formulating our real moral concerns. They only needed to ask the right questions.

For instance: Is the law still an ordinance of reason promulgated by those in authority for the common good? The Bishops who have read St. Thomas should be able to take a clear moral position on this question.

How many among us still care to know the difference between truth and falsehood, good and bad, right and wrong? The Bishops need to ask to what extent the state’s effort to proclaim itself as the source of truth and law has contributed to this problem?

The Bishops are not called upon to decide who are guilty of corruption, plunder or any crime. But when a major corruption scandal shakes the nation they have a duty to find out whether the accusations are being answered, or due process is simply being manipulated and undermined to make sure the truth is never known.

1 comment:

the bystander said...

Mr. Senator,

Firstly, the Canon law you are discussing was already in existence during the time of Marcos and Estrada. Why didn't they folllow it then and are only following it now?

We cannot blame the people, the anti-Arroyo camp especially, if they would think that the Bishops have been coopted. I mean, what makes Gloria different now to be accorded a different treatment than Estrada in 2001? The scandals besetting the present administration are far worse than the scandals during Erap's time.

Besides, we are not even sure at this point if the motive of the Bishops now is really a sincere effort to go back to the basics. The apparent "closeness" of some Bishops with the President cannot just be taken for granted in analyzing the soft stance of the CBCP with respect to the burning issues of the day.