The Bishop of Bacolod has won the Supreme Court order restraining the Comelec from coercing the Diocese to take down its contentious poster on Team Buhay and Team Patay based on the Fair Election Act (RA 9066).
The Bishop claims the Cathedral is private property, and the right to put up the posters flows from the Constitutional guarantee of free speech. Comelec officials and many others in the country interpret that poster as election propaganda. As such, in election fairness, it ought to stay within size limitations imposed on candidates.
With all the other cases the Supreme Court has in its dockets, it must now decide this case.
I will not dare to comment on the merits of the legal case. I leave that to the infamous Guro of Destabilization. And the final judgment of Supreme Court.
For me, the restraint required is not matter for the Supreme Court. It should come from the Diocese itself.
Of course, the cathedral is private property. But it is private property on which stands a Catholic church which is the seat (cathedra) of the Catholic bishop. It is the symbol of the full local Catholic Church. That designation is ironic here, since “Catholic” originally means not “for us” but “for all.” While Church property is private from the viewpoint of civil law, it is property “for all,” not just “for some,” to be used for the public worship and private prayer of the Disciples of Jesus Christ and to be used for the proclamation of his Gospel. Because of these functions, such Church property was consecrated, i.e., removed from the world of profane uses, and reserved for sacred purposes.
Some places in the world are sacred, and need to be protected for the sacred, not reduced to the profane pitched battles of politics. Can you imagine what would happen if different churches and cathedrals, both within the Catholic Church and outside it, with divergent views, would go the way of free speech of Bacolod’s private Cathedral and started plastering their walls with partisan political propaganda?
In my view, it is inappropriate to take the sacred structure which belongs to all the Catholic baptized of the diocese, among them its saints, sinners and independent-minded baptized, dedicated to their worship, prayer, and the proclamation of Gospel truth and use it to display a huge electoral partisan poster. A partisan poster is in itself divisive. Its message is always contentious, because as partisan there is always an acceptable “other side.” Placed on a Cathedral wall, however, it gives the impression, willy-nilly, that God and his Church are behind the endorsed candidates and in rejection of the non-anointed. Those rejected by God and his Church conveys, willy-nilly, the rejected candidates have no place in the Church. That was the unfortunate message given in one Cathedral of the North where people who were in support of the RH-Law were told to leave the church. They did.
The other unfortunate message given is that by the sacred endorsement of the anointed candidates by Jesus Christ and his Church the particular candidate endorsed are necessarily qualified for office. The impression given is that because of the Church endorsement, they are worthy of the voter’s vote. No matter the status of the faith, the values, the education, the skills, the track record, the history of the individual, because the Church puts a luminescent halo atop the name of the candidate, that person is qualified for office. That, of course, is pure mystification – even were the manner in which a person voted on the RH issue a valid issue.
Of course, there may be those who precisely want to expel from the Church those who do not think like them, and would be happy through such a caper as the divisive sign on the Bacolod Cathedral, to divide the Church into those who think in the red like them, and those who do not think like them. They do so presumably because they consider themselves armed with infallible truth, empowered to bind the consciences of the faithful to their narrow positions, able to consign to heaven or to hell.
They don’t. In the Catholic Church they do not teach infallibly – and certainly not in the issue of Team Buhay and Team Patay. Let them present to the Catholic citizen their views on authoritative Church teachings and their values, but do not pretend to bind conscience where it cannot yet be bound. Let the Catholic consider his options in an autonomous world ultimately created by a loving God who redeems and respects peoples’ freedom. Let the Catholic citizen make up his own mind according to the dictates of his/her own conscience.
For those who respect dogma, the following excerpt from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, may be sobering:
“The holy people of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name. The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life” (12).
Infallibility involves not merely the bishops, but also the lay, not merely those who agree, but also those who don’t. It requires universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.
Clearly, in matters of sexual morals and such as Humanae Vitae, this universal agreement is still outstanding. Until it is achieved, we are in a state of discernment towards what is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Here, the participation of laypeople, even of people who have been numbered among “Team Patay,” is welcome.
I submit: no matter the decision of the Supreme Court, partisan political posters on Cathedral walls don’t help this discernment.