Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Church and state separation, beyond the constitutional text

There’s no hard evidence that the Bishops had sold indulgences before the issuance of the latest CBCP pastoral letter on “social concerns” by which as a collective body they voted against a second attempt to impeach President Arroyo. But judging from the tenor of the “prophesying in hope,” the Catholic hierarchy is still behaving as the “established” church in the Philippines. A manifesto of sort by any other NGO, were we to believe DJB’s rendition of the current status of the Church, could not have produced such ripple effects as the pastoral letter is creating now. Perhaps, only a similar statement coming from mother USA (such as “you have to cut, and cut cleanly”) would carry the same weight.

The office of the Bishops as the shepherds of the lay faithful representing about 80 percent of the Filipinos can not possibly be explained away upon sheer reliance on the non-establishment clause of the Constitution or by “(combing) the decisions in both Philippine and American jurisprudence” on the matter, the avenue somehow preferred by constitutionalist and Jesuit Joaquin Bernas to explain the separation doctrine. “A non-state entity like a church may be a victim of a violation of the separation rule, but the violation is done not by the church but by the State,” writes Bernas.

Be that as it may, the self-induced “separation” of the Church from the Italian monarchy in the context of Italy’s annexation of Vatican City (1870-1929) is different from the “separation” (that is, the “de-establishment” of Roman Catholic Church), followed by the “establishment” of the Anglican Church and then the “settlement” with the “Popery,” in England during the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), which resulted in the persecution of the Puritans who wanted “pure” separation from the hierarchy of the “established church” as well as the Papacy. The radicals, also called “Precisemen,” were compelled to vote with their boats as Pilgrims by sailing (in the early 1600s) to the New World and thereupon in the course of the Great Awakening founded congregational (independent and self-governing) churches in what has to become America.

When the U.S. Constitution was amended in 1791 to recognize religious freedom and prohibit the “establishment of religion,” the two conspicuous tax-supported churches were the democratic Congregational and the hierarchical Anglicans, the former being the dominant religion. There were however other religious denominations such as the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Quakers, the Baptists, the Roman Catholics, the Methodists and the Jews. There was apparently no need to de-establish in the United States any church in particular but to guarantee religious freedom in consonance with the zeitgeist of individualism and liberalism in the new nation.

When substantially the same Bill of Rights was extended to the Filipinos following the American conquest of the Philippines, the peculiar situation in the Philippines should have called for de-establishment first, rather than non-establishment, and then for religious freedom. At the time of the conquest, the friars, according to Leon Ma. Guerrero, were the “self-justified ruler and governor of (the Filipino) souls and bodies” who “outlast them all” including the politicians, the military commanders, and the “governors (who) came and went.”

Now, in plainer language, removal from office via the process of impeachment is “election in reverse,” albeit indirect, involving the office of the incumbent public officer who is being made to account for acts of betrayal of public trust. Thus any party who publicly declares that the election should not be held because of some perceived imperfection in the process could not possibly profess to be on neutral stance because such a declaration favors an outcome that allows the incumbent to hold on to power, the gravity of the charges in the impeachment complaint notwithstanding. So what gives when the break on what’s essentially an un-election process is applied by a de-facto established church? What happens too when the call of the shepherds is against the overwhelming bellow of the flock to know the truth?

This is how I immediately reacted in mlq3’s blog after reading about the pastoral letter:
I have great faith in the People Power phenomenon, not the variety that kills and confiscates, but the communicative one, just as the upheavals in 1986 and 2001. The justification for another seems ripe, now that even the bishops have collectively ignored the clamor of their flock . . . well via a “pastoral” spin that could put Bunye’s and Defensor’s gift for it to shame. I mean how else would GMA now prove her legitimacy and hope to govern effectively through 2010 for the “common good” by simply burying the Garci tapes scandal as if no one knows about it? Do the bishops really think the Filipinos are still the friars’ half-children?

The intervention of the bishops serves as “an unproductive (clerical) exercise, dismaying every citizen, and deepening the citizen’s negative perception of (themselves), left, right and center.” The bishops will now have to justify their authority to shepherd their flock because of this “lapse in judgment.”
I believe if the Church has to survive a creeping self-de-establishment, it has to go back to the political Catholicism that drove a tyrant out of office in 1986.

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