THE death of Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz has opened the question concerning the role of bishops in politics. It was during his term as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, that the conference issued many important documents that touched the realities of Philippine society. Among them is the Pastoral Exhortation on Philippine Politics issued in 1998.

In the said document, the CBCP under Cruz’s presidency describes the country’s political situation as one that “has degenerated into an arena where the interests of the powerful and rich few are pitted against those of the weak and poor many.” Further, corruption in the Philippines is indicated by an uneven “application of the law, heavily weighted as it most patently is on the side of the politically connected.”

What the CBCP said during the late Archbishop’s term was prophetic. It was a voice in the wilderness more than twenty years ago. Ironically, the same CBCP at present is largely restrained in its pronouncement. Of late, the bishops’ pastoral letter is relatively of forceful tone. Sadly, it was issued by the vice president of the Conference at the time when his president, the Archbishop of Davao, was sick. Let’s just say that such issuance was a plain coincidence.

When Cruz ended his term as the CBCP’s president, his crusade did not end. He remained consistent with his position as a pastor of a people. The things he did reflected what the same abovementioned Exhortation says of the Church’s mission in politics:

“Politics Has a Religious and Moral Dimension–this is the general principle we start with. Every informed Catholic should be aware of this simple incontrovertible truth: Our Catholic faith is concerned with the religious and moral dimension of life; but every human activity that flows from the normal processes of intellect and will has a religious and moral dimension, since it may either lead to grace or to sin.”

He was not a one-sided critic, however. He was equally vocal in his criticisms of the Church’s share in the proliferation of societal corruption. His name appears in Aries Rufo’s book, “Altar of Secrets.” This is the same book recommended for reading by Tatay Digong. A quick look at the book’s index of names would reveal the extent of Rufo’s reliance on Cruz’s views on internal ecclesiastical corruption, especially in matters related to sexual abuse by the clergy. He was a staunch advocate of “zero tolerance” – that is not giving chances (not even suspension) to priests who would violate Church norms related to celibacy and chastity.

With his leaving, those who remember the good archbishop cannot but wonder whether the current leaders of the Church have mutated into a different species of pastors. Is it the case that Church leadership has changed its way of looking at things? We cannot but ask: where do some of our bishops and archbishops locate themselves in the current spectrum of issues.

Cruz was laid to rest on August 28, which is the feast of Saint Augustine, a doctor of the Church and was also bishop of Tagaste in Africa. Augustine, a great teacher of Christian doctrine lived to see the tensions of politics and religion. He acknowledged the importance of politics in the life of man. Combining Platonic philosophy with the Christian view of salvation history, he taught that politics is necessary for the achievement of earthly justice.

Justice cannot but be a goal in all peoples’ sojourn in this life because the fallen nature of humanity has made it necessary for all human beings to obey higher authority and thus avoid greater crimes such as murder, adultery and robbery. The necessity of earthly justice, for Augustine, is the essential reason why politics is necessary. A State that cannot deliver justice is, for him, nothing but an “organize robbery.”

The death of a good leader and a pastor leads us to reflect more deeply on what we have become as a Church. And as we move closer to our celebration of the 500th year of Christian presence in the Philippines, it becomes all the more imperative to ask: what kind of a Church have we become and what kind of a community of believers should we be beyond the fancies of our preparations?