Tell it to SunStar: Reaction to the April 5 public forum

THANK you, first all, Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and our earlier presentors for the most enlightening exposition on very important and crucial issues that our country is facing today. I am Fr. Vidal Gornez of the Society of Jesus representing the men and women religious in the Archdiocese of Cebu.

I would like to begin with a firm assertion that we men and women religious are political persons. Just like everyone else in this gathering, as persons endowed with a rational nature, responsible for their own choices and able to pursue projects that give meaning to life at the individual and societal level, we men and women religious also form part of the foundation and political life of our nation.

The State implicitly recognizes this by giving us a political voice through the votes that we cast at every electoral exercise. Canon law does restrict the clergy’s taking an active part in political parties and forbid them to assume public office which entails a participation in the exercise of civil power, respecting the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order. But, according to the great Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus, the Church may express preferences for institutional or constitutional solutions or enter into questions of the merit of political programmes where they concern religious and moral implications.

As vividly presented by our distinguished resource persons, the coming May 13 elections, the creeping issue on charter change and the repeated violation of human rights—to date we still pray the Oratio Imperata to end the spate of killings in Cebu in our daily masses—are pressing political issues that need urgent and decisive resolution.

Are these political issues off-limits to the clergy and religious? Are these off-limits to the Church? Are not these issues with far-reaching religious and moral implications and consequences? Does not the Church have anything good to contribute to the political conversation in the public sphere?

As political persons which I have earlier asserted, and by virtue of our vocation and formation, we do have our unique contribution to make in the political conversation.

As a collective body, our philosophical, theological, pastoral—and for a good number of us—scientific, sociological, psychological, economic, and organizational training and experience, and above all our faith and moral lenses, provide us a wide optic in seeing societal reality to help enlighten and educate people in making informed moral judgements and choices. And the Church, so states the Catechism of the Catholic Church, can claim the freedom to express her moral judgement, whenever it may be required to defend the fundamental rights of the persons for the salvation of souls, but especially when the State invades the Church area of action, impairing the freedom of her activity to the point of persecuting her.

In a recent statement of the CBCP entitled Seek the Common Good, it points out the May 13 elections as crucial.

What is the moral implication of people’s choices? The danger of undermining the checks and balances in government aware of the political interests of some candidates vigorously supported by the present ruling political party.

CBCP also calls our attention to the even more insidious move of changing the 1987 Constitution, the motives that have been coming out clearer now as shamelessly self-serving.

Some bishops, in their individual capacities, denounce the still unresolved spate of killings of suspected drug pushers and addicts in the ruthless war on drugs, earning the ire and vile threats of the highest leader of the land.

Cannot the Church speak its mind in all this? Cannot the clergy and religious speak about the moral decay accompanying the country’s current political situation in their talks and in their sermons? Can they not be called upon to fulfill their task as prophets for the people? Peter and the other apostles when confronted and admonished by the Jewish authorities not to speak about the resurrection of the crucified Christ said: We must obey God rather than men.

But one may not expect us men and women religious leading the political charge and mounted like a Joan of Arc.

We would like to appeal to the principle of subsidiarity. It is proper for the Catholic laity to actively engage in political activities, not excluding partisan political candidate activities, while the clergy engage actively in issue-related activities. Not that we men and women religious do not want to dirty our hands or soil our boots, but because the vast majority of the Church membership are the lay people whose daily itinerary is the world: the workplace, the classroom, the government office, the mall or marketplace, the public square, the judicial courts, the police and armed forces, the halls of Congress, even Malacañang.

Finally, the Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us: Individual Catholics must get involved and embroiled in politics because it is one of the highest forms of charity since it seeks the common good. (By Fr. Vidal Gornez, Society of Jesus representing the men and women religious in the Archdiocese of Cebu)


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