IT is not only now that the Church has become a political institution.
It has always been political ever since its birth. In fact, all forms of institutionalized religion are by nature political institutions. In theocracies, the church is even the backbone of the state.
The rise of the secular states and the entrenchment of the dictum of the separation of Church and the State are reactions to the enormous power of the Church in shaping the political trajectories of modern nations.
The Roman Catholic Church rose from the persecution of the early Christians, as marginalized forms of religion born from the caves and hidden alleys of Rome, but soon became a dominant and powerful institution that served and was served by kings and queens. From being persecuted, the Church became the persecutor. Torquemada inflicted the bloody horrors of the Inquisition from the privilege of being a Dominican drawing power not only from the institutionalized divine powers of the Roman Catholic Church but also from the civil powers of the Spanish crown.
People who were considered as threats to the power of the Church were considered as heretics and were tortured, crucified or burned at the stake.
The story of the Roman Catholic Church is written in blood and horror. It is a tale of corruption and greed.
The Roman Catholic Church of today is no less mired in controversies, many of which are of its own doing. Corruption allegedly exists even in the inner sanctums of the Vatican. The Church hierarchy has been accused of protecting pedophiles among its ranks.
In the Philippines, it has been revealed that the Church is in fact a capitalist institution, with billions of pesos worth of investments in real estate and business enterprises, the most notable of which is in mining.
And thus, the struggle for many Filipino Catholics would be how to maintain and nurture their faith in God in the context of a Church that has been, and continues to be, politicized and mired in its own narratives of hypocrisy.
And here, one has to take comfort in the fact that the Church, because of its political nature, is also a site for political contestations, for it is no longer just a monolithic hierarchy of men in robes like Padre Damaso ruling over an obedient and silenced people. Instead, it has become a living, breathing community of pragmatic believers, some of whom are as politicized in asserting their spaces within the Church.
There are Catholics who oppose the views of the bishops and priests on reproductive health.
There are also Catholics who support President Duterte.
No one should begrudge the Roman Catholic Church taking an active role in politics. In fact, it should allow itself to be a site for politics to exist, in the sense that it should allow debates to exist within its ranks, among its members.
What should be opposed is for the Church leaders to act once again like modern-day inquisitors who label those who disagree with them as supporters of evil. We do not want a Church that will once again have a dividing wall between the “true believers” and the heretics, effectively appropriating religion not as an instrument to enlighten, but as a weapon for political partisanship.
The Church that we need is one that would not invest itself in divisive discourse, but one that would enable a dialogue between all political voices. While difficult, the Church hierarchy must listen to all sides, and must be a vehicle not to celebrate Christian virtues selectively and privilege only those that are safe for the interest of one political group.
This is the problem of the Roman Catholic Church in the country. To many, it has become a partisan institution that has its own sins against the Filipino people. It is an institution that has to work hard to convince the people that it doesn’t have a particular political color, and that its vocal leaders are not serving certain partisan political interests.
When the Church came out with a pastoral message on extra-judicial killings, it was well within its right to express its continuing role as an institution that shapes our moral fiber as a nation. But this is not what is at issue here. What is at issue is that the Church did not come out with a pastoral letter earlier to address the issue of drugs, and of those lives it wasted and killed.
It is obvious that Filipino Catholics have evolved from a pliable, devout, obedient flock to a more assertive, divided and independent community of pragmatic believers struggling to keep their faith. Most of us have become too engaged in our own diverse moral and ethical groundings that given a choice between a Church that would like to confine, label and even demonize us, and a President that promises us hope and change, many will choose the curses of the latter over the condemnation of the former.