THE wars of religion, which engulfed Europe in the 17th century, ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. But more problems followed. In the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck tried to drive the Catholic Church out of existence with his kulturkampf. In 1871, the German chancellor, a devoted Protestant, abolished the Roman Catholic bureau in the Prussian ministry of culture; forbade Catholic priests from expressing political opinion from the pulpit; subjected all religious schools to state inspection and excluded religious teachers from state schools; dissolved the Jesuit order in Germany; then severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
In 1873, he placed religious training and even ecclesiastical appointments within the Church under strict state control. By 1875, he made civil marriage compulsory throughout Germany, cutting off state aid from non-compliant dioceses and sending defiant clergy into exile. The Catholic population responded by packing parliament with their allies, forcing Bismarck to ultimately reconsider his position. The arrival of Pope Leo XIII at the Vatican finally turned the tide against the Iron Chancellor.
But in the 20th century, nazism and communism became the principal scourges of mankind. Both ideologies finally collapsed, but with political liberalism came also what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called the dictatorship of moral relativism. This has since become the plague of our civilization. Some people, having apparently learned nothing from history, seem determined to convince President Rodrigo Duterte to embark upon something grotesquely similar to Bismarck’s kulturkampf. The apparent objective is to punish the Catholic Church for speaking out against the drug killings, which has become the defining program of the DU30 government.
The latest windmill
I cannot see this going anywhere. But some people seem determined to exploit DU30’s volatile nature and turn the Catholic Church into his latest windmill. To strike a contrast between the most numerous Church and other denominations, a group of non-Catholic “bishops” was recently reported to have declared “full and solid support for DU30 despite the hyped propaganda against him by detractors.” At the same time, the apparently hyper-active Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), which I reported earlier to be preparing to impeach the Ombudsman as a favor to Malacañang, is now said to be poised to ask a Regional Trial Court to enjoin the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) from making any statement on the drug killings. To this group, the CBCP statements constitute undue interference in State affairs.
These developments show to what extent insanity and ignorance have sunk under the present administration. To suggest that opposition to the drug killings is merely coming from DU30’s “detractors” is to distort reality through incompetent English usage. Over 8,000 drug suspects are reported to have been killed; and the condemnation is coming from independent critics, concerned citizens, moral leaders, and international human rights workers. These are not mere “detractors.” Detraction is the act of revealing a person’s hidden fault without any just public motive: a “detractor” is someone who discloses somebody else’s private faults without any public good to be derived from such disclosure. DU30’s non-Catholic supporters would like to make it appear that the killings are private matters which the government has every right to keep hidden.
What is the bishops’ crime?
Now, why should the CBCP be held answerable for denouncing the killings when the assailants themselves are not being held accountable for their crimes? What crime did the CBCP commit in issuing a pastoral letter condemning the killings? Slander? Libel? Undue interference in State affairs? This appears to be the drift of the VACC’s reported thinking. The group seems to believe that the constitutional separation of Church and State, which the Church respects, prohibits the Church and church leaders from judging the morality or immorality of government actions. They call it undue interference or meddling. But this statement has no moral or legal basis at all.
No wilder nor more ignorant statement could come from any source. Every act of the State must have a sound moral basis, and it is the right and duty of the Church, on behalf of the faithful, to pass moral judgment on it. The exercise of that right and that duty is a function of the constitutional separation of Church and State, rather than a deviation from it, as alleged. On everything that concerns the rights and dignity of the human person, the Church has a right and duty to speak. The Church ceases to be a Church if it doesn’t speak.
When the Constitution says “the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights,” or that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws,” it does not create a state obligation or an individual right ex nihilo, but merely reaffirms what already exists in the moral order. Thus, when bishops and priests call attention to the ongoing violations of human rights, they do so in a double capacity—as moral authorities exercising a moral mandate and as concerned citizens discharging their wounded consciences.
The dangers of a backlash
The human person is “the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions,” as the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, and there can be no legitimate political order which does not recognize this. Nor can such an order fail to promote the natural cooperation between Church and State on the basis of the fundamental rights of man and the human community, and the rule of law. Indeed, there cannot be a political order outside the natural moral law. But this is precisely where DU30 could be heading if he allows himself to be drawn into this move allegedly being packaged by the VACC.
The court complaint could harass the bishops and the clergy and provoke jeers from the secular media, but I cannot see it succeeding anywhere. To the contrary, a backlash could ensue. Although there are more nominal and folk Catholics than well-instructed ones, most, if not all, of them are likely to fall behind their bishops and priests if and when the Church comes under prosecution from DU30. I would urge DU30 then to distance himself from this reported anti-Church initiative, and try to mend fences with the Church hierarchy before it is too late.
With the international human rights forces building up, including Vice President Leni Robredo throwing in her own videos, DU30 will need all the allies he can get at home. He cannot allow himself to be hooted out of the stage for listening to a power-driven group which would like to engage the Church in a major confrontation for its own motives, without having received the thinnest daubing of philosophy, theology, anthropology, sociology, logic or Catechism to augment its skimpy knowledge of Church-State relations, based on the short exchange between two priest-delegates during the deliberations of the1986 constitutional commission.
One does not have to be a clairvoyant to predict what will happen if a case were filed against the CBCP before an impartial judge. The New Testament provides a playbook for it. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and the apostles are jailed by the authorities for preaching the words of Christ after his crucifixion. An angel frees them from prison, and returns them to the Temple to continue their preaching. The high priest confronts them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in his name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Obey God, not men
Peter and the apostles then say, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The members of the council are enraged and want to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stands up and gives orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he says to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about 400, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished and all who followed him were scattered. So, in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (cf Acts 5: 27-39).
DU30 needs to listen to his own Gamaliel now, rather than to those who merely want to see him explode in a paroxym of rage and declare for their own ends a war he does not need and which not even the devil has won.