Church, state separate, but can work together

The Church said Sunday it has declared a virtual truce with the Duterte administration, calling on priests to read a statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in churches instead of or with the homily during Mass.

“The Church respects the political authority, especially of democratically elected government officials, as long as they do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation, and the inherent dignity of the human person,” said Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the CBCP.

The CBCP statement was drawn up during the three-day 117th plenary assembly of the CBCP last July 7-9. This was shortly after President Duterte, in the course of a speech, remarked how God in the story of creation in the book of Genesis of the Bible created a perfect world with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, only to have a serpent, the Devil, tempt Adam and Eve with an apple that gave them the ability to see the difference between good and evil, but destroyed the original perfection of Eden. The President saw it as a “stupid” thing to do.

The word “stupid” has specially rankled in the thinking of many people. The President, of course, is used to cursing people, the way he cursed former United States President Barack Obama and even Pope Francis with “p… ina.” It is so unpresidential, critics say, but this is how the President talks and most people have simply adjusted to it.

The CBCP has now issued a statement that should put an end to the exchange of harsh and angry comments on this matter. It said it is ready to work in critical collaboration with the administration, but not on what it holds to be basic moral and spiritual principles. Among these are the sacrednesss of life and the inherent dignity of the human person – and so the Church will oppose the moves to restore the death penalty in the Philippines and to allow abortion of unborn babies. Then there is the integrity of creation – and so the Church will oppose the reckless exploitation of the environment in our mountains and in our waters.

But there are so many other areas in which the church and state can cooperate – such as in programs to help so many poor people in the country. They need not intrude into each other’s spheres, as declared in the Constitution, but they can work together for good, each one contributing its particular capability, strength, and human and material resources.