“Thou Shalt Not Steal” – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Allow us to speak to you with the utmost sincerity and directness.
Graft and corruption – in the plainest of language, stealing from the public through the misuse of influence or position – has become, to our shame as a people, an ordinary fixture of our nation’s public life. President Aquino herself has admitted that it has returned, if not to the same extent, at least with equal shamelessness during her administration.
Such stealing, in and out of government, is, to be sure, nothing new. But we are dismayed that it has become so widespread and has largely gone unpunished. In fact, many who steal seem to no longer care to hide the illicit fruits of their stealing. What makes us even more sad is this: acts of graft and corruption or toleration and connivance with them are no longer ordinarily viewed as sin, but are often considered as acts of cleverness (when uncaught) or mistakes (when caught). But they are no longer considered as sin or offenses against the Lord who has commanded us not to steal, sees everything we do, and is revolted by these acts of graft and corruption. This sin is today especially hateful before God because it steals money from the already poor. Stealing from public funds is so much more food plucked from the mouths of the starving, so many more chains binding us, plunging us deeper into the enslaving spiral of poverty from which we are begging to be extricated with outside help. Under present circumstances, it becomes a sin of the blackest hue, a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance (cf. James 5:4).
Sins of graft and corruption cannot be condemned enough. For they destroy or obscure the image of God in those who perpetrate them, and harm the dignity of the children of God in those who are their victims. Acts of graft and corruption can be death-dealing and are always oppressive of God’s children. For the way to life is in keeping the commandments, among which is “Thou shalt not steal”, and in loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 19:16-19). Those who act otherwise endanger their eternal salvation, and expose themselves to death, the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), even as they deprive others of the opportunity for a more abundant life. Hence, we, your bishops who have received from Christ the mandate to teach all men to carry out everything that the Lord has commanded (cf. Mt. 28:20), condemn graft and corruption in our society as a life-destroying plague.
We are conscious that we, your bishops, also have our share in this sin, and hence we express our repentance even as we ask for the forgiveness of the Lord and those we have harmed. But while acknowledging our own sinfulness we want to exhort you, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to likewise condemn this sin which tarnishes our name as a Christian nation, and harms not only ourselves but our mission to spread the light of Christ in this part of the world.
But it is not enough to condemn. We must also act. What can we do?
We must all examine ourselves, act with honesty ourselves and refuse to commit acts of graft and corruption or be accomplices, by action or inaction, in their commission. For example, we must resolve to pay our just taxes and refuse to bribe tax collectors and other government employees. We must refuse to participate in illegal gambling, one of the worst occasions for graft and corruption in our country today.
We should launch a massive program of moral formation, increasing our present efforts in this direction. Such a program must start in the home, and be carried out in our schools, organizations and churches. This moral education should teach us to “Avoid greed in all its forms. A man may be wealthy, but his possessions do not guarantee him life” (Lk. 15:15). This formation should also inculcate the truth that it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world if he destroys himself in the process (cf. Mt. 16:26; Mk. 8:36). And it should impress upon all the obligation to return stolen goods (cf. Lk. 19:8-9).
Now, however, we want to bring to your attention and solicit support for something which we in the Bishops’ Conference have been giving thought to for sometime now in consultation with people in government. We in the Conference have finally come to these conclusions:
1. We, the people, must pass from passive endurance to active abhorrence of the crime of graft and corruption. We must begin getting organized against its continued and unpunished recurrence.
2. One concrete way of doing this is for the private sector, firmly supported by the Church, to form anti-graft-and-corruption councils at all levels of our society from the national to the barangay level, especially from the provincial level downwards, since we believe it is easier to organize ourselves at these lower levels.
3. These councils must be composed wholly of private citizens, men and women of good standing in their communities, who while serving in the councils must be free of all political party ties or suspicions of such ties.
4. The councils’ main functions are:
(a) to monitor the appropriation of public funds at the level on which they operate;
(b) to see to it that such funds are used honestly for the purpose for which they are appropriated;
(c) to act as the civilian arm of the Ombudsman in the reporting and prosecution of graft and corruption cases;
(d) to muster and promote in public opinion a truly efficacious rejection of thieving in government; and,
(e) to support on-going efforts of the government and other private initiatives at preventing and minimizing such thieving.
The help of media practitioners will be very valuable in the carrying out of the councils’ functions.
There are already laws and directives that are meant to empower and protect citizens in whatever steps they may take to ensure transparency in public office. We ask the government to guarantee that those laws and directives will be faithfully observed. We further ask that the anti-graft and corruption councils be given endorsement and appropriate assistance.
Finally, we ask everybody to pray for the eradication of graft and corruption in our society, for we are battling not only against human beings but against spiritual, demonic powers which cannot be cast out without the help of prayer (cf. Eph. 6:12, 18; Mk. 9:29).
Are we capable of the kind of action we are proposing here? The answer is in our hands. We have no illusions about the difficulty of the undertaking, about the dangers too attendant on its pursuance. But we call for such action nonetheless. We call on all loyal sons and daughters of the Church to support and take part in what, we trust, will be a massive, persistent campaign against graft and corruption.
We commend all those who are doing their best, against tremendous odds, to eradicate from their midst this deeply-rooted evil. We stand solidly behind them. We commend, too, in highest terms especially those men and women in lower government posts who, despite the prevailing ethos of corruption in their places of work, have nonetheless conscientiously and courageously remained untouched by its corroding force.
There are many of them. They are the unrecognized heroes and heroines of the moment, and for them we have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration. We join them – and all others already active in promoting honesty in public office – in putting the common good above selfish interests. For only when we do so can we truly lay claim to the name Christian.
Let us engrave these words of the Bible in our minds and hearts:
I have seen the wicked triumphant,
towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
I passed by again; he was gone.
I searched; he was nowhere to be found.
See the just man, mark the upright,
for the peaceful man a future lies in store,
but sinners shall all be destroyed.
No future lies in store for the wicked.
May Mary, Help of Christians, help us with her prayers in this fight which we must win.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
July 11, 1989
“Hold Fast to What Is Good” (1 Thess. 5:2) – A Pastoral Statement on Fundamentalist Groups
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
On January 22 to 24, 1989, we, Catholic Bishops from all over the Philippines, gathered in Tagaytay for a seminar on Fundamentalism. What brought us together was a serious pastoral concern about the increasing flow into our country of fundamentalist groups, preachers, TV programs, and the harm they cause to many of our faithful.
Main Characteristics of Fundamentalist Groups
The fundamentalist groups we refer to are not the mainline Churches like the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Fundamentalists are people who profess with us that the Bible is the Word of God. But they accept the Bible as the one and only necessary source of teaching for our salvation, and claim that we ought not to believe what is not explicitly taught in the Bible. Further, they cling to a very literal interpretation of biblical passages which they often quote in isolation from their contexts and to which they give a meaning different from that intended by the human and divine authors of the biblical books concerned. This literal interpretation of biblical passages taken out of their context is then used to aggressively attack Catholic teachings and practices like our teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary and our veneration of sacred images.
They also understand biblical inerrancy in the sense that everything said in the Bible, even statements expressing an outmoded picture of the world, cannot be mistaken. We Catholics understand biblical inerrancy in the sense that the Bible teaches without error those truths which God intended to teach for our salvation.
Another characteristic of fundamentalist groups is their one-sided assertion that one is saved by faith alone, and that once a person accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior he is already saved. This leads to a practical neglect of the importance of the Church. Indeed one notices that fundamentalist groups have little room in their teaching for the Church, and take little or no account of Tradition and the sacraments.
The fundamentalists’ insistence on the Word of God, their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, the warm welcome and fellowship they accord to members and prospective members, and the liveliness of their worship service have proven to be great attractions to Catholics.
Errors of Fundamentalists
While we cannot deny the presence of grace in fundamentalists of good faith, we must nevertheless warn against serious fundamentalist errors. We note especially the following errors which we cannot admit:
1. We cannot admit that God’s revelation can be found only in the Bible. There was already revelation before any single line of the Bible was written. In the case of the New Testament, one need only recall that its earliest book (I Thessalonians) was written about twenty years after Christ’s death and resurrection. And yet the first Christians were not deprived of the Gospel of Christ. It is nowhere written in the Bible that the Bible is the only source of saving truth. Indeed the opposite is implied by St. John when he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book…” (John 20:30). And St. Paul explicitly states, “keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
2. We cannot admit that the Bible by itself is a sufficient guide to know God’s truth. For if this were so, why is there no agreement among these Churches and sects who all profess to be guided by the same Word of God? We need an authoritative interpreter of the Word of God, and that interpreter is the Church which the Lord commissioned to teach and to which he promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit (Cf. Mt. 28:19; Jn. 14:26, 16:13).
The truth is, the Bible is not only God’s Word but a book produced by God through the Church, and should never be separated from, and much less used against, the faith of the Church that gave it birth.
3. We cannot admit the minimizing of the role of the Church in salvation. It is clear from the whole Bible, but especially in the writings of St. Paul, that we are called to belong to one body where all do not have the same functions and gifts though all are called to be children of the same Father. Only Christ saves, yes, but as Saul learned on his way to Damascus, Jesus identifies Himself with the Church (cf. Acts 9:4-5), which is His body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph, 5:30).
Nevertheless, we must take the coming and activities of these fundamentalist sects as an invitation from God to us towards an honest self-examination, and as a challenge to understand, and mature in the Christian and Catholic faith in which we have been baptized. The presence and activities of fundamentalists in our midst raise the following challenges:
1. There is the challenge to read and study, pray over and live the written Word of God. After all our new birth came “from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God” (1 Pt. 1:23). We, your bishops, have decided to proclaim 1989 as National Bible Year. May the Bible, read in the Church, occupy the place of honor it deserves in every Catholic heart, home and parish.
2. We are also challenged to provide catechesis which will enable Catholics “to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), and lead to a mature personal commitment to the Lord Jesus and a living relationship with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
3. We are challenged to devise pastoral approaches which will reach out to all, especially those who are marginalized in our Church, to make every member of the Church feel that he/she belongs to the Catholic Church in the small communities and in the parishes. Those who feel that they belong to the Church and that the Church is actively concerned with their welfare are not likely to leave us to join a fundamentalist sect. But we must sadly admit that many of our parishioners do not feel that they belong to a parish family, and do not feel a call to involvement in parish life. The bigness of many of our parishes prevents a personal knowledge and relationship of the priest with the majority of his people. We must devise ways and means to make our parishioners rise from their present anonymity. Basic Ecclesial Communities, block rosaries, and other Church organizations and movements have proven to be especially helpful in this regard.
4. We are challenged to make our liturgies, and our prayer meetings fraternally warm gatherings of people committed to the Lord. Preparation of biblically based homilies delivered with conviction and the power of the Spirit will go along way towards enlivening our liturgies.
5. There is the challenge to recruit and train lay evangelizers who will confirm their brothers and sisters in the Faith through their ministry of the Word of God. Just as we need lay Eucharistic ministers, we also need lay ministers of the Word. We can rejoice that the biblical apostolate is already flourishing all over the country.
We ask our people not to endanger their faith through a false sense of ecumenism which often serves as the entry point of many of these sects. Pope John Paul II has expressed the desire that the faithful “while acting in sincere ecumenism with brethren of other Christian confessions and with respect for all may nevertheless know how to remain and behave as faithful children of the Church in which they have been baptized.” (Pope John Paul II to the Bolivian Bishops, May 9, 1987). We must regretfully say that the fundamentalist sects, with their aggressive and sometimes vicious attacks on the Catholic Church, do not practice an ecumenism which we can trustingly reciprocate. In the near future we shall issue detailed guidelines on our relationship with fundamentalist groups. But for now, preachers and members of fundamentalist groups should not be allowed to teach in Catholic meetings even under the guise of giving witness. We also ask our faithful not to join so-called ecumenical prayer or study groups, or other meetings organized by fundamentalist groups. Our faithful must also beware of financial enticements to join the fundamentalists.
We have written these things to you so that you may not be led astray and that we may all together grow in faith and unity. “Hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:2). We are confident that the leaders and other members of the Church will face up to the challenges posed by the fundamentalists and will emerge purified, stronger, more confident in their faith and more committed to the Lord and His Church.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, ever faithful, Mother of the Church, who is called “blessed among women” and “Mother of my Lord” by Elizabeth who spoke under the inspiration of the Spirit (Lk. 1:41-43), help us all to hold fast to our faith.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Nueva Caceres
January 27, 1989»
THE MANIPULATIVE USE
A Message of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Human dignity and the rights flowing from it have always been of paramount concern in our Judeo-Christian tradition. The Holy Father, John Paul II, has been insistent that this concern should mark the modern Church’s approach to its involvement in social questions (cf. Redemptor Hominis and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis especially). The basis of this concern, needless to remind ourselves, is the simple truth of our creation unto the image of God and our redemption by His Son, Jesus the Lord.
In the Philippines today, the incidence of human rights violations has escalated in areas where the Military and the NPA (and other rebel groups like the MNLF, etc.) are fighting for control. And it is innocent civilians, who, needless to say, are subjected most to the abuse of rights by both sides in the conflict. The situation is most deplorable. And we cannot deplore it enough.
But even more deplorable, to our way of thinking, is a development–hardly recognized generally as an evil, we are afraid –in the way human rights abuses are talked about and reported. To give it a name, we call that evil “the manipulative use of human rights violations.”
Thus, each time that “massacres” of civilians take place (Mendiola, Lupao, Paombong come to mind), inevitably such killings are trumpeted here and abroad as incontrovertible proof that nothing has changed in regard to the government’s already dismal record on human rights violations. Now, after the discovery of the mass graves of Quezon and the more recent slaughter of a Church community in Davao del Sur, the very charges that are liberally hurled against the military and government are now turned against the CPP-NPA, the NDF and their allied groups.
What this means simply is that the issue of human rights and their continuing violations have become a political and ideological –not, as it should be, a human and moral–concern, and it is this particular development that we in the CBCP would like to address in this statement.
e find it most distressing that the killing of innocent people and other violations of human rights are actually cause for rejoicing. This is putting it too strongly, perhaps, but we fear it is equivalently what is happening today in the Philippines when one or other political group positively gloats over massacres or cases of tortures, etc. When these are perpetrated by an opposing group and its crime is treated as only one more piece of propaganda ammunition to be used to destroy its credibility before the bar of public opinion.
This is what we mean by “the manipulative use of human rights violations”; the reprobation and publicizing by one political bloc of violations of human rights not specifically to put a stop to them (despite the rhetoric) but merely to blacken the political image of the other. This is using the misfortune of others–the victim, that is, of human rights abuse–to one’s narrow advantage. This is putting the suffering of the people secondary to what political and ideological mileage can be gotten from it.
Over the past three years, we have had ample evidence of this kind of treatment of human rights issues in one sided reporting of violations. All too often, the crimes of the military are played up extravagantly and similar crimes by the NPA are either passed over in silence or muted down or explained away–and vice versa.
It is for this reason that we have been insistent on the condemnation of all transgressions against human rights whether they are committed by the military and government or by the CPP-NPA or by any other power in our society.
It is for this reason too that we have been wary of peace groups or peace councils that have an eye open for the peace-destroying aggression of only one side in the conflict currently raging in the country, but close the other eye to the violence of the group they “sympathize with”. Again, the problem is the use of peace, of people sincerely committed to peace, to further one’s political agenda.
Neither peace nor human rights are the real objectives–power and political advantage are. And people and their violated rights or their efforts at peace are simply means for the protection or furtherance of power and advantage.
From the point of view of the Gospel, the instrumentalizing for sheerly political ends of an evil like violations of human rights and the suffering that comes from them, is something that we Christians cannot but reject in the harshest terms. So too, to be rejected is the similar instrumentalizing of a good like peace and the cessation of hostilities that it advocates.
We condemn such a cynical use of human rights and peace efforts. But even more strongly, we condemn the very violations of human rights and the violence that spawns them. But as in our separate statement on graft and corruption, we should not just condemn. We must act — and act to prevent the very evil, to promote the very good, that we say are being used as mere political fodder.
Last year, we asked how we the people can put a stop to the suicidal fighting going on between the military and the NPA — a fighting between brothers. We still ask the question and we ask it too in regard to the human rights violations which are done in the name of the conflict, as a result of its violence.
Some answers have been tentatively put forth in a number of places in the country over the past year. They are responses of hope, and from them we glean three suggestions that we now propose for further deliberation and action.
The first concerns an open, publicly announced repudiation, by our Church communities and organizations, of violence as a way to peace and justice whether the violence be that of the military or the NPA or any other power group. The absence of peace, the continuing violations of human rights in conflict areas, are proximately due to their violence. The gelling of public opinion against violence may seem like a small thing but its power to constrain soldiers and rebels from uncontrolled violence should not be under-estimated.
The second is the even-handed reporting of cases of violations of human rights. We do not subscribe to the definition of human rights abuses as only those committed by the States against its citizens. Acts of arbitrary killing (“salvaging” or “liquidation”), torture, detention without trial, etc. are all crimes against the basic rights of people and must be treated as such. Half truths, selective truths, manipulated truths–these are unworthy of anyone truly concerned with human rights.
The third is the fostering and supporting of genuine peace initiatives, uncolored and uncorrupted by any political agenda, overt and covert, and geared only toward achieving real peace. For these to succeed, men and women truly dedicated to the pursuit of justice and peace must come together, stand together in an organized way, and even as they work together have a real care that they do not themselves lose their right not to be pawns of political blocs.
On our part as Bishops, we will try to make our social action centers and programs more responsive to the demands of peace-making and the promotion of human rights. We put the resources we have at the service of those demands, impelled by the Gospel of unity and love. And we invite all, our youth especially, to act seriously on the three suggestions we have made above or on any similarly Gospel-inspired initiative for peace and human dignity.
The Lord of Peace bless us all in our struggling for the justice of His Kingdom.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP
11 July 1989