The Congress of Vienna was convened in 1815 by the European nations that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte to establish a new balance of power in Europe and prevent a resurgence of Napoleonic imperialism. The secondary reason was to prevent political revolutions such as the French revolution and the preservation of the status quo.1 Shortly after this meeting, Russia, Austria, and Prussia, formed the so-called “Holy Alliance of Throne and Altar”.
This alliance is a “Gallican” absolutist formula characterized by sovereign power or ultimate authority in the state vested in the hands of a king who claimed to rule by divine right. It is the belief that civil authority represented by monarchs and other state rulers have similar powers as the Pope and the Church.2 This makes their power absolute in spiritual and temporal matters.
Pope Leo XIII spent a lot of energy to disengage the Church from sectarian liberalism by confining the Church’s work to the sacristy, as had been done earlier by Pope Pius IX. Until the 20th century, the Gallican absolutist’s formula likewise haunted St. Pope Pius X, who had to disengage attempts of socio-political movements such as the Francaise and Le Sillon in France who were demanding to politicize the Church, using it for their temporal goals and other selfish interests.3
Happening in our time
We also witnessed St. Pope John Paul II’s resolute efforts to disengage the Church from repeated attempts of “liberation theologies” to commit the Church to socialism, an endeavor that communist totalitarian dictators have been doing with their “patriotic churches”. The Church is a supernatural institution that should be free from entanglement with secular or worldly institutions or movements.3
According Fr. Joseph M. de Torre (author, political philosopher and Roman Catholic priest), “The Church is not ‘of this world’ and therefore cannot be politicized or nationalized”. He further underscored that “The Church cannot therefore be the ‘middle way’ between any ideologies or economic or political systems, simply because she operates on a different level, namely the strictly moral and religious level, which is not temporal as such, or subject to change and pluralism.” Clearly, the Church and its leaders cannot interfere in the domestic politics of a nation; they should stick to matters of faith and morals, which is their real vocation.
It bothers me no end every time I see members of the clergy, religious congregations, and bishops, priest and nuns, engaging themselves in partisan politics by supporting one particular view, implicitly curtailing the right to plurality of opinions on temporal and worldly matters. It continues to bother me, even more, when I observe that Catholic teachings are no longer given emphasis by some Church leaders. They appear to downplay the importance of the Catechism and Christian Doctrine, in favor of political advocacies of particular groups that, they argue, are more important than teachings in relation to the practice of the faith. At the very least, while they are convinced they are doing a good job, one can observe that most Catholics continue to have a shallow understanding of their faith—a sad and urgent reality that needs to be addressed.
In the Philippines
There are very few Roman Catholics in the Philippines who seriously practice their faith. I know many, who happen to be educated in Catholic schools, who don’t even know the basic teachings of their faith. But the same ignorant Catholics take action, when scores of them make judgments based on pronouncements of the CBCP, dwelling on temporal matters such as the death penalty, and the alleged extrajudicial killings (EJK) pointing to President Duterte’s war against drugs and criminality.
It is my belief that the CBCP, whose mission is apostolate of public opinion, should concentrate in evangelizing the faithful, bringing them closer to God and the Church by focusing on Church teaching, instead of alienating them. Surely, with their experts in social communication, they can enlighten the faithful to make intelligent decisions based on Church doctrine. Otherwise, countless Catholics turn their backs against the Church every time they perceive the CBCP as meddling in politics—a huge turn off to many who want to express their inalienable right to freedom of political belief.
The CBCP should bring the faithful closer to the Church, primarily by setting an example through prayer, pastoral work, and the pursuit of better Christian education of their flock. It is my view that a well-formed Christian will automatically do the right thing without external intervention from the Church leaders. The true believers in the faith with a supernatural outlook in life, without a doubt, will entrust their future to God. This is done through prayer, sacrifice, and mortification for a specific intention, instead of politicking in media and social media. As Pope Francis says, “’A good Catholic doesn’t meddle in politics.’ That’s not true. That is not a good path. A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself — so that those who govern can govern. But what is the best that we can offer to those who govern? Prayer.” 4
It is clear to me that Pope Francis encourages Catholics to meddle in politics by offering the best of themselves, so that those who govern can govern, perhaps by being a good citizen, obeying the laws and being less of a troublemaker. Or, for those who have the vocation to be in politics, to use their position to enlighten our lawmakers and politicians who may, out of ignorance, engage in legislation and political activities that are contrary to Christian teachings. But, nevertheless, prayer is still the best we can offer for those who govern and who are in government.
St. Pope John Paul II earlier supported this in his speech addressing the clergy in the Philippines in 1981 —“You are priests, not social or political leaders. Let us not be under the illusion that we are serving the Gospel through an exaggerated interest in the wide field of temporal problems.”6
Relentless efforts to destabilize the present government of President Duterte have persisted. The detractors, led by the Liberal Party (LP) whose minions like Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Trillanes, together with some Church leaders, act contrary to the teachings of the Universal Church, headed by Pope Francis. The Philippine Church should examine themselves more in the light of this sensitive and divisive subject. At least, they should learn to communicate the Church’s position more clearly, without further alienating its followers, many of whom are supportive of the government.
Lessons from history teach us that whenever the Church gets secularized or politicized, events prove disastrous for both the Church and the State. The Byzantine Empire, starting in the 16th century and culminating in the Russian Czarism3, we know what happened when Gregori Rasputin took control of civil authority through Czar Nicolas II that led to the downfall of the Russian Empire months after his death.5
A series of similar events also occurred, a review of history reveals, proving that secular rulers who tried to nationalize the Church, subjecting her to their temporal power and ambition, ended disastrously.3
1. Roman-Germanic Empire characterized by a variant of Ceasaropapism culminated in 19th century Austrian Josephism and Prussian Kulturkampf.
2. Anglicanism, whose seeds were sown in the 12th century, burst forth in the 16th century with disastrous consequences.
3. Gallicanism in the early 13th century led to the French revolution in the 18th century.
Quo Vadis? Philippine Church
As history repeats itself, the CBCP and particular leaders of the Philippine Church who continue to pursue an interest in partisan politics (if they succeed) will end up taking us back to the middle ages when civil authority and ecclesiastical authorities were one. This will foster dissent, more hatred for the Catholic Church in the Philippines, and increase the spiraling reduction in the number of the faithful who were practicing Catholics.
It is ironic that some Church leaders themselves are the culprits in the progress of the decline of the faith. Unknowingly, they fuel the fires of doubt and suspicion against their own sincerity and integrity. This further reinforces the accusations that they are as corrupt as the politicians they vehemently despise. Little do they know that fulfilling the demands of their vocation would engender more interest in the faith, and attract more people to the Catholic Church in the Philippines.
Church meddling in politics must be stopped, unless we want to live the rest of our lives in the “dark ages” of the new millennium, a socio-political quagmire threatening the landscape of our nation’s future.
1. Congress of Vienna.
2. Spielvogel, J.J. (1991).Western Civilization. West St. Paul, Minnesota.
3. de Torre, J.M. (1988). The Church and Temporal Realities. Manila, Philippines. SEASFI.
4. Pope calls faithful to pray, participate actively in politics. (2013, Sept. 16).
5. Rasputin Biography.com. (2015, Oct. 29).
6. John Paul II in his own words. (2003, Oct. 14).
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