Like the civic-minded Filipino, the astute lawyer, and the obedient cleric that he is, the good Fr Joaquin Bernas goes out and throws the books of State and Church Law at us in an effort to “clarify” the “fundamental of Church-and-state relations“. Really now, Fr Bernas, this article of yours comes across as just your most recent bid to excuse (a) the meddling of the Church hierarchy in State and personal issues (such as reproductive health), and (b) the participation of our army of men-in-robes in politics and political exercises among others.
To be fair, the principal argument used by those who criticise the above two initiatives that the Church as an organisation is racheting up, emanates from that misunderstood writ of “separation of Church and state”. And Bernas makes like a lawyer and begins by invoking the following to the letter:
* * *
Bernas highlights the two principles of the Constitution related to the place of religion in Philippine society, the first being that no one or set of religions will enjoy any endorsement or prescription as an established belief system coming from the State…
The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion …” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the church but to the state. It is the state, after all, which passes laws.
The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion.
The second one has to do with emphasising that all religions are pretty much on their own on a playing field that the State will ensure is kept level as far as the competition for indoctrination of hearts and minds (perhaps to a lesser degree for the latter) goes…
The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”
That is the “separation part” of the constitutional command. The other part is the “free exercise clause.” Both are embodied in one sentence which says: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In effect, Atty Bernas highlights loopholes in the Law that renders the separation-of-Church-and-state principle ineffective as an argument for criticising the Ayatollah wannabes that currently infest Philippine politics. Specifically he quotes again from the Constitution how “No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights”, which means being a priest does not exclude one from any civil activities.
Catholic Doctrine and Edict
Atty Bernas then goes on to cite his client’s plea that buried deep within its catacombs lies an obscure document that describes a resolution in the Third General Synod of Bishops in 1971 which explicitly emphasises a directive for clerics to focus on their ministry and discourages them from participating in politics or any form of militancy.
Too good to be true? Indeed it is, when one considers the caveat in that doctrine which jumps off the above and goes on to stress that this discouragement of clerics’ participation in politics and militancy is in effect unless…
[…] in concrete extraordinary circumstances, this is really demanded by the good of the community, and it has the consent of the bishop after consultation with the priests’ council.
Bernas stops short on further enlightening us with his two cents as to whether or not he’d personally consider (1) the current times as being of “extraordinary” circumstance, and (2) whether it is indeed the “good of the community” that is behind whatever is motivating the Ayatollic posturings of some Filipino clerics.
* * *
In both of the above citations, Atty Bernas does a Pontius Pilate and conveniently excuses himself (considering he is one of them revered thought leaders in our sad society) of any need to take a clear position on Catholic Ayatollahs running around playing Pinoy-style politics. Instead he misses the whole point of the debate and like the good soldier applies his legal mind to what is really nothing more than an act of deference to both the letter of the Law and the edicts of his Roman masters.
This is where I step up and come to fill that intellectual void left by an otherwise intelligent man:
I believe that, at its most fundamental, a religious organisation and its minions is engaged in persuading people to subscribe in “heart” and (arguably) in “mind” to its belief system with the goal of seeing to it that actions that subsequently originate from these poor sods’ respective individual wills reflect said subscription.
In other words if, say, one of the “commandments” of a religion is that one shalt not kill another human being, and we then observe that the adherents of said religion do in fact generally refrain from killing people, then we can conclude that said religion succeeded in its ministry as far as that aspect of the belief system it prescribes. What then could be concluded about priests who go on to seek actual political power (which, I might remind, includes access to options to apply state-sanctioned threats of violence and incarceration against citizens)? Quite simply that they represent symptoms of an overarching failure on the part of their religious organisation to effect change within their adherents.
Bernas, the good attourney, offers his client plausible recourse by citing the caveat of “extraordinary circumstance” to excuse the loose cannons amongst their officers. But, really, what this is really all about is a downplay of the fundamental failure on the part of the Church in their mission to make “good” people out of “sinners”. “Extraordinary circumstance” and “evil” — sounds like the same banana to me. Both are convenient and seductive excuses that the Church routinely invoked to justify a reversion to old-fashioned politics (and often military action and the application of state-sanctioned violence) seen many times over its 2000-year history.