Catholics and Politics

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Reality check: Politics in the Philippines, from the 16th century to the present, has been dominated by Catholics.

Therefore, asking for Catholics to enter politics and other social fields like business and other professions, for the purpose of cleansing these from corruption and abuse, is like asking for more of the same.

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle did ask for the faithful of the Catholic Church to enter the infected fields of Philippine society, especially politics, and infuse these with Catholic virtues in the footsteps of Jesus. If all these areas had not already been the almost exclusive domain of Catholics, this exhortation would be meaningful. But, as it is, in the context of historical and current reality, the published exhortation made in the recent Holy Week is somewhat comic.

There is an old saying, “The pot is calling the kettle black,” that jumps to mind with a Catholic prelate asking the faithful to invade a corrupt or evil situation dominated by Catholics. This saying has, for a background, this meaning.

“This comes from old times when pots and pans were generally black and kettles were generally metallic and reflective. Therefore, the pots sees its own black reflection in the kettle and thinks the kettle is black.”

The state of politics, of public service through many other professions, has been Catholic through and through – except maybe among Muslims in their local settings. Even then, Catholics have dictated all along how Muslim affairs  should be governed. That is why the Bangsamoro Basic Law is so radical, less for its perfection, but for the opportunity for Muslims to be finally governed by Muslins, not Catholics.

It does not mean, though, that Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has no need to exhort Catholics, just exactly what to exhort them towards. If he was so moved to push Catholics to cleanse politics and other major fields of social endeavor that had been eaten up by corruption, abuse, and other evils, he just needed to be reminded that Catholics caused this anomalies, or moral abnormalities. When he was calling for the faithful to reform politics et al, he forgot to mention that the unfaithful in the Church caused all these.

I believe that there must have been a very special and localized context that produced such an exhortation from the good Cardinal. It may have been that the audience he was address was not representative of Catholicism in the Philippines, but the more faithful among them who keep struggling to be Christian in behavior and not just in name. Maybe, the quality and refined morality of the audience before him induced him to call on these precisely good Catholics to invade politics, business and the other professions mangled and stained by other Catholics who were not behaving like true Catholics.

It must be that Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is inspired by the freshness and courage of the leadership of Pope Francis. I really believe so, and I hope that Pope Francis will be a constant model of inspirational leader for the Cardinal. It is Pope Francis who first called the pot black by making the Church hierarchy confront its shortcomings. The first reforms were internal, the first to be reformed were the leaders of the Church, cardinals and bishops, and even the rigidity of narrowness applied to Church teachings.

Following the example of Pope Francis and his own primary exhortation to priests and bishops, the most immediate and important in the context of reform was to “go to the people, go to the people.” As he was saying this, he had already began setting the tempo and the temper, putting the most basic and simple as primary, like shunning pomp for the ordinary, whether it be palaces and cars, or kissing the feet of non-Catholics, or women.

One feature so extremely refreshing and inspiring has been the welcoming attitude of Pope Francis, such a remarkable departure from the judgmental posture of both the Vatican and local Church hierarchies. The air of inclusivity and warmth reminds many of the public life of Jesus who was so immersed with the people, who sought them out with love and compassion, who healed and taught them, and who sacrificed life itself for them – regardless of Jew or Gentile.

Apparently, Pope Francis is more concerned about following the footsteps of Jesus rather than making the faithful follow the footsteps of the Church hierarchy. He does not seem to be concerned about the superiority of Catholicism but the invitation of love that Jesus extended to everybody – politician, tax collector or prostitute included. If some in the Church hierarchy and Catholic lay communities may be disturbed by the very fidelity and simplicity of Pope Francis’s example, it is only because they had become more confrontational than understanding, more judgmental than forgiving, more ritualistic than substantive.

It is less urgent for more Catholics to invade an already Catholic-dominated governance of major fields in Philippine society, and more urgent for Catholics to be more faithful to the teachings of their faith, and to be more sensitive to the accountability of being good children of God and their motherland.

Personally, I just hope that the brand of Catholics in Philippine politics, business and all other professions become an awesome source of inspiration. For too long, poverty and corruption have been allowed to grown as the nation’s and people’s gravest cancers, so anathema to the Church’s preferential option for the poor and the path of service of Jesus Himself. So great a challenge is upon us all.

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