CAGAYAN DE ORO

Abellanosa: Catholic schools and political issues

Fringes and Frontiers

I WAS asked whether it is proper for teachers and staff in a Catholic school to take side in the face of current political issues. A legalistic response would invoke freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the constitution. Political opinion even on matters that are so contentious is constitutive of a person’s liberties.

From the viewpoint of Catholic education, however, we cannot be too legalistic and reductionist in our approach to the question. Presupposing the question is not just a legal issue but also a moral concern. Should teachers, academic staff or even the non-teaching personnel in a Catholic school hold on to views or opinions that are not aligned to the teachings of the Church more so to the values of the Gospel?

Before we give a yes or no for an answer, it would help if we set the parameters of our discussion. In 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a Pastoral Letter to commemorate the 400th year of Catholic Education in the Philippines. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma then CBCP president signed the letter on behalf of the Philippine bishops.

There are instructive points in the letter, which will help us find our answer to the question. Foremost, the Church tells us that the aim of Catholic education is “the formation of the human person,” who in the Christian tradition is not just as an individual but a member of society that aims at the common good. Citing the Vatican’s Declaration on Christian Education, the pastoral letter adds: “Christian Education is tasked to develop harmoniously the persons’ physical, moral and intellectual endowments.” In the middle of the document, the message of the bishops is getting sharper. Catholic educational institutions are reminded of its mission to “announce” the good news and “denounce” anything that is not life-giving.

Catholic schools have the mandate to “to build a culture of peace and love.” Ultimately, the litmus test of this is fidelity to the Gospel and the courage to “challenge anomalous and evil structures.” The pastoral letter then highlights this important point: “graduates [of Catholic schools] must be witnesses to the power of the Word and should strive to transform society.”

Thus, the duty and responsibility of teachers and staff in a Catholic school is not just guided by labor standards. All personnel in Catholic schools must continually reflect and seriously understand their role as formators. Working in a Catholic school is not merely employment. It is a participation in a mission. This is not easy to understand more so actualize.

We need not wonder why there are some personnel in Catholic schools who are having cognitive dissonance. On the one hand they believe in Jesus Christ but on the other hand they cannot embrace the truth that a Christian cannot and should not tolerate murder. Some are even pious devotees of the Santo Nino but they do not believe that a Catholic should not support the various agencies of structural evil.

Politics is divisive. That is why it must be evangelized. If we cannot evangelize politics, the other way around can happen: the Church will end up politicized and divided. Perhaps it is time for all Catholics to review a lot of fundamental matters about their faith. In the face of confusion and distrust even towards Church authority, it is important that we seek clarity in our direction.

We repeat in the Eucharistic Prayer every time we celebrate the Mass “remember Lord your Church spread throughout the world and bring her to the fullness of charity.” May this, one day, become true when we all stand united in our faith... not just in matters of charity but also in the struggle for justice.


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