Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Dualism of Church and State

EVEN if the so-called Reproductive Rights Bill has been once more defeated in the Philippine Legislature, thanks to the efforts of Catholic pro-life and pro-family lobbyists, we can be sure that just like in the past several Congresses, its proponents will try again in the next one. At times, even I am starting to doubt the bases for all the resistance that my Catholic friends have to what seems to be more and more acceptable─i.e., reproductive rights. The oft-quoted argument is the so-called “separation of Church and State.” Just what exactly does this expression signify?

Christian Dualism of Church and State: Distinct not Separate
The Liberalist idea of the separation of Church and State can be traced to the proponents of the French Revolution. But the Christian notion of the Dualism of Church and State far antedates the former, starting with the well-known Gospel dictum: "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s" (Mt.22,I5-22; Mk.12,13-17; Lk.20,20-26). Other less known texts can be found in I Pet.2,13-17 and Rom.13,1-7, where Sts. Peter and Paul ordered the Christians to obey the civil authorities in those matters which were of their competence.
But the most decisive text─for the question we have at hand─can be found in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4,19-20). Peter and John had been arrested by the Sanhedrin─which was both the religious and civil authority of the Jews at that time─for preaching Jesus Christ and winning many converts. To the
command of the Sanhedrin for them to stop their evangelizing activity, the Apostles replied:
"Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, decide for yourselves. For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."
In effect, the above-quoted statement of Christ (which risks being a tautology) must be understood in the light of Peter's declaration which gives it content: One must indeed render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God’s; but what is Caesar's and what is Gods? The Natural Law is God’s, and man must obey it, despite any contrary disposition of the State. The State and the Church are distinct, with distinct competencies; but they are not separate because they involve basically the same subjects (the civic man is also a religious man), and are both under the same Natural Law of God.
Applying this to the present controversy regarding certain provisions of the so-called Reproductive Rights Bill, it is not a question of the State desisting from contraceptive means, because the Church says so: that would indeed be an infringement of the Principle of Dualism of Church and State. Rather, the State should not propose contraceptive means because the Natural Law (i.e., the of God which is in men’s hearts) says so: even the State must render to God what is God’s─unless it institutionally denies His existence and His Law over Nature, as indeed how the liberalist idea of "separation" of Church and State would have it.

The Liberalist deviation: the "separation" of Church and State
Without going into the details of the posterior deviations from the original Christian idea, suffice it to say that intolerance in religious matters did not in fact originate in the Church, but rather in the absolutist monarchs of post-Medieval Europe. This was especially true after the Protestant inspired principle of cuius region eius religio (“he who possesses the kingdom controls its religion”) was installed in the Peace of Westphalia, ending the Wars of Religion, but also putting an end to a united Christendom.
The idea of tolerance in religious matters, at the face of the excesses of regal absolutism, found its theoretical basis in the 18th Century under the influence of the Rationalist School of Natural Law. These doctrinal roots gained strength in t h e thought of the Age of Enlightenment, and found concrete form in the ideological climate of the revolutions towards the end of the 18th century. However, despite their common ideological roots in the Enlightenment, the treatment of the religious factor would not be the same in the Declarations of Rights which would emerge respectively from the American and the French Revolutions.
The framers of the American Constitution were not conditioned by past institutions (recall the opening lines of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “..... conceived in liberty”), but were rather moved by a strong religious ideal (“In God we Trust”), and desired to construct a modus vivendi for Christian migrants of different confessions that would overcome the religious intolerance of the Old World. Such consideration of religion as a positive element gave rise to a formulation of religious freedom that gave greater juridical protection to religious expression: the idea of respect for Christian pluralism (against the war between Catholic and Protestant princes in Europe) flowed naturally into the wider notion of religious pluralism.
The juridical formula, which was conceived to attain this respect for religious freedom in pluralism, was the separation between the State and the Religious Confessions. Consecrated in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (1791), this was simply an empirical formulation, without any doctrinal discussion. The State simply declared its incompetence in religious matters, by stating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
On the other hand, the French Revolutionaries were reacting against the institutions of a Catholic confessional and absolutist State. Hence, the climate of religious tension in which the revolution developed. Against the Catholic confessionalism of the Ancient Regime, the proponents of the French Revolution postulated the laicist character of the State, which could hardly lead to respect for the independence of religious confessions. Thus, the French Declaration of Human Rights did not reflect the full protection of the manifestations of the religious phenomenon. Rather, it explicitly protected only the freedom of opinions, including religious ones, for the expression of which public order constituted a limit to be fixed by law.

The agnostic state
In the European mold of the separation of Church and State, despite the lip service to freedom of opinion, the Liberal State oftentimes gave a negative evaluation of religion. This gave rise to a minimalist conception of religious freedom (leading to periods of veritable persecution of the Catholic Church, first in France and later on in Italy and then in Spain).
Thus, liberalism proposed the ideal of the Laicist State: not in the sense of religious pluralism as enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but rather postulating the Agnostic State. This implied a rejection of Natural Law the foundation of the public order of the State, thus dissociating the
juridical order from the objective moral order. With its conception of man as a being with total autonomy, and by relegating God to the world of the unknowable (Agnosticism), liberalism proclaimed the human reason as the absolute criterion of truth and the human will as the autonomous font of morality: “What I know is what is true, and what I want is what is right.”
The norm of morality is thus shifted from the objective Natural Law, to the subjective rule of the majority: what the majority says would constitute what is right, regardless of whether or not such majority opinion is objectively right. Thus, in the US and many Western European countries, for example, the majority have legislated that abortion (killing a helpless baby) is right; and in Holland they have legislated that euthanasia (killing a sick person) is right.
In effect, the liberalist doctrine of Separation of Church and State was a declaration of the confessional principle of the Agnostic State: a shift from religious pluralism to the confessionally laicist State: a state where man─embodied in the majority, or in the ruling party─is the absolute norm of right and wrong. Unfortunately, this idea of separation of Church and State is what has prevailed in the last half-century, even in the U.S., and is what is being proposed now in the ongoing debate on reproductive rights in the Philippines.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Priests and politics

WE have a problem in my archdiocese with a priest who said that priests can campaign for the upcoming elections as long as they don’t do it from the pulpit. People are confused because the statement came out in the local papers. Is there anything in Canon Law on this?
In a previous issue, we had dedicated this column to the question of Catholic Associations and Partisan Politics. The questioner then had taken for granted that the Hierarchy should not be involved in partisan politics. Now, it seems, this criterion is not very obvious to everyone.

The Role of the Priest in Political Life
By virtue of the service that he must render to individuals and society, the priest is interested in all those questions relative to public administration, which inevitably entail an ethical dimension. The correct notion of the distinction of Church and State does not mean that the hierarchy and the political community should live oblivious of each other. It means rather that each has its own proper sphere of responsibility: the hierarchy towards the eternal common good, and the government towards the temporal common good.
But since the temporal common good necessarily dovetails—since it ends up in the same final destination of the human person—with the eternal common good, the proper role of the hierarchy towards the temporal common good is one of magisterium and guidance: it is the role of the hierarchy in general and of priests in particular to form all men of good will (but especially the lay faithful) to have the right criteria to exercise their political options with freedom and responsibility.
The priest, in addition, preserves the right to have a personal political opinion and to exercise his right to vote, according to his conscience. "In those circumstances in which diverse political, social or economic choices legitimately present themselves—pointed out the Synod of Bishops in 1971—priests, like all citizens, have the right to make their own choices.”

Limits to the Priest’s Participation in the Political Exercise
The aforementioned right—like any other right—is obviously not an unlimited one. The external manifestation of a priest’s political preferences may be reasonably restricted by the demands of his ministry, which seeks to embrace everyone, to fully proclaim the Gospel and to be a valid sign of unity among all people.
Thus, c.287, §2 of the Code of Canon Law explicitly limits the participation of clerics in the political exercise in the following terms: Clerics are not to have an active role in political parties and in the direction of labor unions, unless the need to protect the rights of the Church or to promote the common good requires it in the judgment of the competent ecclesiastical authority.
The rationale behind this prohibition is as follows:
1) To avoid any semblance of dogmatism. As the Synod of Bishops of 1971 pointed out, “political choices are contingent by nature and do not express the Gospels completely, adequately or perennially.” John Paul II, following the same line of though, would add that “a political party can never be identi¬fied with the truth of the Gospel, nor could it ever be, therefore, the object of absolute allegiance, unlike what happens with the Gospel.” John Paul II concludes that the priest should not forget the relative character of political activities “even when citizens of Christian faith create, in a plausible way, parties inspired ex¬pressly in the Gospels, and he should not cease to strive to make the light of Christ also shine on other parties and social groups” (General Audience, 28.VII.1993).
2) To avoid any semblance clericalism. As John Paul II also pointed out in the aforementioned audience “within the framework of the Christian community, [priestly ministry] should have respect for the maturity of the laity and, what is more, should strive to assist them to achieve this, through the formation of con-science.” In other words, the correct sense of empowerment of the laity consists precisely in respecting their rightful autonomy in political choices, without their being unduly coerced—whether intentionally or otherwise—through a false reverential fear of displeasing their pastor who expresses a political preference different from theirs.
The problem lies in the fact that when a priest (more so a bishop) speaks of his political preferences, it is difficult for the faithful to distinguish—especially in a country with a tradition of deep respect for the clergy—when he is proclaiming Gospel truth and when he is merely speaking of his preferences or opinions. In other words, it is difficult for a priest to claim that he is only speaking as a private citizen expressing his political leanings, without the Catholic faithful perceiving it as an authoritative moral determination.

Scope of the Prohibition
1. Active participation in political parties. The juridical norm extends the prohibition not only to the exercise of functions of management or direction of such parties, but also to any membership in such parties, the knowledge of which may trigger an alienation of those faithful of a different political leaning—an alienation which the canonical prohibition precisely seeks to avoid.

2. Active participation in the direction of labor unions. The treatment of the participation of clerics in union associations is something very different. What is forbidden in this hypothetical situation is, strictly speaking, participation on an active basis in maintaining those organiza¬tions—i.e., to have positions of government and direction in such unions.
3. Militancy in favor of a given person or party. As a logical consequence, the same Synod of Bishops of 1971 declares that “the priest, witness of future things, should keep a certain distance from any political position or effort.” It is difficult to argue that this statement does not refer precisely to the priests actively campaigning for a certain political party or electoral candidate.
4. Possible exception: To defend the rights of the Church and the common good. The canon obviates any danger of laxity in the interpretation of this exception, by precisely stipulating that such an exception must be according to the judgment of the ecclesiastical authority. Thus, no individual priest may determine by himself the existence of sufficient reason to make an exception to the general prohibition, but must rather depend on the judgment of the competent authority—i.e., the Local Ordinary.

The Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, issued by the Congregation for the Clergy on 31.I.1994, summarizes all these in the following terms (ref. n.3):
— “The priest, as servant of the universal Church, cannot tie himself to any historical contingency, and therefore must be above any political party. He cannot take an active role in political parties or labor unions, unless according to the judgment of the ecclesiastical authority, the rights of the Church and the defense of common good require it.”
— “In fact, even if these [political parties and labor unions] are good things in themselves, they are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state, since they can constitute a grave danger of division in the ecclesial communion.”
— “Like Jesus (cf. Jn 6, 15 ff.), the priest ought to refrain from actively engaging himself in politics, as it often happens, in order to be a central point of spiritual fraternity. All the faithful, therefore, must be able to approach the priest without feeling inhibited for any reason.”
— “The Priest will remember that it does not fall on the shoulders of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in political activities and in social organizations. This task, in fact, forms part of the lay faithful’s vocation, in which they work by their own initiative together with their fellow citizens. Nevertheless, he will not be absent in the effort to form in them an upright conscience.”

(Note: This article originally appeared in CBCP Monitor, March 2007.)