Wading into Political Waters

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Eric Genilo |

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has made statements that it would not endorse any political candidate or party.[1] In practice, however, the CBCP has tolerated partisan campaigning by individual bishops. In the wake of the recent passage of the Church-opposed Reproductive Health (RH) Bill that would facilitate access to contraceptives and sexuality education, some clergy and laity have initiated efforts to organize a Catholic vote for the midterm general elections in May 2013.

A coalition of Catholic lay organizations has formed the “Catholic Vote Philippines” movement. The short-term goal of the movement is to prevent the re-election of any legislator who had voted for the RH Bill. In the long-term, the movement aims to campaign against all politicians who propose or support laws that go against Catholic teachings such as the legalization of divorce and same-sex marriage. The movement’s website lists candidates and their voting record on the RH Bill. Some bishops have publicly endorsed the movement.[2]

Recently, the cathedral of the Diocese of Bacolod displayed on its façade a large poster with two lists, one endorsing “pro-life” candidates and another denouncing “anti-life” candidates. Other dioceses have indicated their intention of putting up similar posters in their churches.

Some politicians have dismissed the Catholic vote as a myth. Previous elections have shown that Church endorsements and denunciations of candidates have rarely influenced poll results even if the majority of voters are Catholics.[3] However, even if the present campaign for a Catholic vote is successful, the credibility of the Church will certainly suffer.

The inordinate attention given by some bishops to the RH Bill as an election issue gives the impression that the Church gives more importance to sexual morality than to social concerns such as poverty, corruption, land reform, environmental degradation, and abuse of political power. The Church’s claim of of being a “Church of the Poor”[4] becomes less believable.

The political endorsements of some bishops have confused ordinary Catholics who have regarded the Church as the only non-government institution that can be trusted to protect the sanctity of the ballot. The Church will compromise its role as a neutral election watchdog if it becomes identified with partisan politics.[5]

In a form of backlash, a social media campaign had been launched against the Diocese of Bacolod. A list of local priests who have allegedly sired children is being circulated by text and Facebook, parodying the list of pro-life and anti-life candidates posted on the cathedral wall. More revelations against the clergy were promised.

If bishops continue to wade into political waters, the Church will end up as the only sure loser in the next election, with less moral authority and a tarnished image.

[1] CBCP Catechism on Church and Politics (1998); “Freedom to Choose the Candidates,” Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, March 13, 2007.
[2] http://catholicvote.ph/
[3] Ramon Echica, “The Catholic Vote, Anyone?” in http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/22996-the-catholic-vote-anyone (March 4, 2013) accessed March 5, 2013.
[4] Second Plenary Council of the Philippines #122.
[5] Echica.

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