What role should today’s Church play in politics?

Jee Y. Geronimo

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What role should today’s Church play in politics?
'It will be very difficult to go back to an era when the Church treated the state as its instrument'

MANILA, Philippines – On February 22, 1986, former Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin went on air in Radyo Veritas and called on Filipinos to go out in the streets and join what turned out to be a peaceful uprising that restored democracy in the country – the EDSA Revolution.

It was a call that galvanized the millions of Filipinos in this predominantly Catholic country, where religion is central to the way of life and where the Church continues to exercise influence in the lives of the faithful. 

But today, in the age of exposés and one corruption scandal after another, one asks: What should be the role of the Church in politics?

On Friday, November 21, Rappler moderated a forum during the launch of the special double issue of Philippine Studies, an international journal published by the Ateneo de Manila University. The academic publication’s latest issue features articles on Filipino Catholicism and its different dimensions.

Randy David, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines’ sociology department, said that in today’s modern world, if the Church tries to participate in the political world as an actor, it will be rejected.

“Should it have any role except to comment about politics?” David asked. (READ: The Church speaks up because we won’t)

In the modern society, he said the Church is just one of the many institutional spheres instead of the most dominant one. (READ: Are we truly a secular society?)

“It will be very difficult to go back to an era when the Church treated the state as its instrument,” he added. 

Right to participate

But Sister Mary John Mananzan, a Missionary Benedictine sister, said David was talking about the Church as an institution, when for her the Church is the people.

“The Church must take part in politics – Church as people, and politics as participation in the decision-making that’s happening in the polis (city),” she said.

Her concern, she said, is in the human being – body and soul – in the context of his or her society.

“I have the right to participate in deciding what happens to this human being, and what kind of circumstances – economic, political, social – [are] influencing, [for] worse or good, this person,” said Mananzan, former chairperson of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP).

But the same modernity David talked about is actually “pluralizing the public space,” said Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture President Melba Maggay.

“In other words, whether you like it or not, you are actively engaged in social space… From your faith tradition, and your world values, you stand up for it in public space,” she said.

This “prophetic tradition,” Maggay said, is different from politicking. “Politicking is when you use your institutional influence to put people into office. Now, the Church is not supposed to be in that business. The Church is supposed to be in the business of upholding moral values in secular space. That’s prophetic,” she explained.

This engagement in social space is perhaps best demonstrated by Pope Francis himself, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. David said the fearless Pope is in the risky business of “opening everything about the Church.”

“I think he’s telling the world there’s no need for the Catholic Church to be defensive or to be afraid to open up, for examination and review, all its teachings and its pastoral practices,” he added. 

The forum was held in line with Rappler’s coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines in January 2015– Rappler.com 

Join Rappler in a 100-day countdown to Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines: a journey from the Vatican to Tacloban. Tweet us your thoughts using the hashtag #PopeFrancisPH!

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.