Abellanosa: The old issue on the Church and State

Abellanosa: The old issue on the Church and State

THE “separation of the Church and State” is a worn-out issue. It is always used by politicians against critical churchmen whenever public discourse is not to their favor. Apparently, the provision is in the Constitution (Article II, section 6) but its application has always been selective.

Politicians have found pray-overs and pre-election blessings from pastors and cult leaders favorable. Some government officials are even known best friends of "Divine Beings" or those who claim that they received a timeless and eternal appointment from an otherworldly kingdom. So what’s new? Nothing. We have been repeating an old and no-longer-interesting issue.

We have to wake up to the fact that in reality priests and presidents are all human beings, and that all of them can die of Covid-19. What I am saying is we are all living in the same country and we are sharing the same resources. In the process, there are conflicts of interest and competition of ideas. I think this is one “practical” reason for the separation.

Whatever discourse we create and whatever philosophical and theological explanation we use to substantiate it, at the end of the day it goes back to our interests. But I am not saying that interests are bad. I believe in what Adam Smith said about the benevolence of humanity and that even in the most self-interested of human interests, there is something good that can be gained from it.

If this is so, then the question is not about the separation per se but of the interests of both parties that push them to invoke the said principle again and again. In the context of that “human benevolence” that I believe in, I would like to argue in favor of many Churchmen who may not be perfect but are well-meaning in their criticisms. One local columnist said in his article that these bishops are religious oligarchs. I do agree with him to the extent that his claim is supported by Church history. Truth to tell, the origin of ecclesiastical power cannot be divorced from the history of feudalism.

However, I would also consider it too naïve to still believe without any qualification that all Churchmen and bishops in particular have remained to be religious oligarchs. The insistence on such a position would not only be naïve but malicious. While it is true that religions, in general, have had their share in the miseries of the world but in the process of social evolution they have also contributed a lot of good things to human society. The problem lies in how we read history and in the way we generalize things.

So going back to the issue of the separation of Church and State, I guess it would be futile to still debate on the legality of Church participation in the affairs of the government. Elected government officials should not forget that their political career would not have reached where it is now if not for religious influence. The lenses of Philippine media captured it all. From their gestures of kneeling and praying inside Churches during campaign periods to their use of God’s name in public speeches. Many even had their election posters and stickers sprinkled with holy water. So what separation are we talking about?

This country has never been purely secular and we will be far from becoming one. Our democratization in fact – is a product of the deep involvement of religious forces. We are a nation whose political leaders are beneficiaries of divine intervention. This is something some people may not want, but this is something that no Filipino can undo.

So the great Jesuit constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas was right when he said that “violating the separation of the Church and State is an impossible crime.” True that the law highlights the principle’s inviolability but no matter what no act of violating can violate something that can never be done in the very first place.


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