A CBCP Pastoral Letter on Social Concerns

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you. Jesus said to him, look after my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)


Beloved People of God:

Greetings of peace, joy, and hope in the Lord!

1. The Lord, indeed, has given us an experience of his love and peace in the five days that we spent doing our spiritual retreat. We prayed and meditated. In prayer we recalled that out of his love the Lord has called us to be shepherds of his flock. He has made us so by his ineffable grace of Episcopal ordination.

2. In these past days we were reminded again and again that our shepherding has to be grounded solely on the love of God. If out of love the Lord has called us, so in love of him we are to feed His flock. Thus, Peter was called and appointed by Jesus as shepherd of the flock. Pastoral charity has to be the very life of the shepherd. Love has to be at the root of our task to proclaim the Word of God, to preside at worship, celebrate the sacraments, and lead in serving you, our beloved people.

3. But in this Year of the Social Concern of the Church, we have become even more deeply aware how challenging it is for us to be your shepherds. For what we see before us are the faces of poor people confused by complex factors beyond their control, political polarization, burning social issues, and the cultural and religious situation of our country that we all dearly love. With a sad feeling of debilitating hopelessness, they wonder when the seemingly endless political battles in Manila would ever give way to the more pressing problems of their daily economic struggles. They wonder if their deepening impoverishment would ever find a unified political response.

4. As shepherds we offer our moral and religious guidance. For this reason we focus our reflection on the social doctrine of the Church. We do so in the light of the Gospel of Jesus, our Lord and Savior as it illumines the darkness of our day. We invite you, our beloved People, to use our reflections as Pastors to help guide your own discernment, discussion, decision and action.

The Place of Social Doctrine in our Mission to Evangelize.

5. At the very outset we remind you of God’s love for all of us even as we experience great sorrows. Deus Caritas Est – the profound first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, perhaps programmatic of his pontificate, brings us back to the most basic of the teachings of the Lord and of His Church: God is love. God loves us. It is because of who God is that we need to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

6. If, as the Lord himself says, this commandment to love God and neighbor is the summary of the law and the prophets, most certainly it likewise summarizes what Christian life — the new life given us in the Spirit of Jesus — has to be.

7. More profoundly, God’s compassionate love for us is personified in His only begotten Son, Jesus our Savior. This is why our beloved Pope Benedict XVI says: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est [DCE], 2005, no.1).

8. From the truth of Jesus, urgent questions arise. Do we ever encounter Jesus who is the very reason for our being Christian? How do we encounter him? Does this personal encounter change our life, our life in the family, our life in the community, our life in society? If we believe in Jesus and love Him, have we become better persons, better Christians, better citizens? Have we become better followers or disciples of Jesus? Has the fact of being Christians made our society become more peaceful, more fraternal, more just?

9. Such blunt disturbing questions, our beloved people, bring to the fore the necessity of linking faith and life. They also indicate the intimate and inseparable oneness of the Gospel of Love and the Gospel of Justice, i.e., the moral implications of the Lord’s Gospel in all dimensions of human life, individual, social, political, economic, cultural, and religious.

10. For this reason we set out before you these important realities of our faith:

10.1.  “The Church’s social doctrine is an integral part of her evangelizing ministry” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church [CSD], 2004, no. 66). Pope Paul VI had asked: “How in fact can one proclaim the new commandment (of love) without promoting in justice and in peace the true, authentic advancement of man?” (Evangelii Nuntiandi [EN], 1975, no. 31).

10.2.  As “an essential part of the Christian message,” the social doctrine of the Church points out the direct consequences of that message in the life of society and situates daily work and struggles for justice in the context of bearing witness to Christ the Savior” (CSD, 67).

10.3.  “On the one hand, religion must not be restricted ‘to the purely private sphere’, on the other, the Christian message must not be relegated to a purely other-worldly salvation incapable of shedding light on our earthly existence” (CSD 71, citing Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus[CA], no. 5).

10.4.  Undoubtedly, to be true shepherds, we as Bishops have to teach the integral Gospel, the gospel of the Lord with all its social implications. This is a non-negotiable task for the shepherd who is also the teacher of his people. The social dimension of love is, after all, the clear implication of the Lord’s teaching on the love of neighbor as an active solidarity with those who are in need. Without this solidarity one cannot be welcomed into the Reign of God (see Mt. 25:34-46; Jas. 2 and 5).

10.5.  At the same time, we as bishops do have to remind ourselves again and again that in the Church there is a variety of roles. While “the primary responsibility for the pastoral commitment to evangelize social realities falls to the Bishop,” (CSD, 539), he is assisted by all members of the Church in a variety of ways.

10.6.  Granting all the above and given the autonomy of the temporal sphere, it remains a perennial teaching of the Church that she cannot take on a political task as her immediate responsibility. It is not her responsibility to provide any political blueprint for the just ordering of society (cf. DCE 28; PCP-II, 330-53). She has her own role to play in promoting justice, e.g., to influence life, public and private, with the integral Gospel, to form the social conscience of her members, to provide a moral light that illumines, a spiritual force that critiques social behavior and structures, denounces or purifies and reinforces in the light of the Word of God (see PCP-II, 248).

The Social Doctrine of the Church as Prophetic

11. The People of God know that our role as shepherds includes the duty to “teach the truth of faith:  the truth not only of dogmas but also of the morals whose source lies in human nature itself and in the Gospel” (CSD, 70, citing Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanae, 14 and John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 27, 64, 110). For the Church has “the right to proclaim the Gospel in the context of society, to make the liberating word of the Gospel resound in the complex worlds of production, labour, business, finance, trade, politics, law, culture, social communications, where men and women live” (CSD, ibid.).

12. This is also a duty, since the Church “cannot forsake this responsibility without denying herself and her fidelity to Christ: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’” (1 Cor 9:16); CSD, 71). The Gospel then has a public relevance. This is even more understandable when we realize that the Church cannot ignore “the corrupting effects of injustice, that is, of sin” (CSD, loc. cit.).

13. Therefore, the Church has a duty “to denounce when sin is present: the sin of injustice and violence that in different ways moves through society and is embodied in it” (CSD, 81). In this way the Church’s social doctrine defends human rights “especially those of the poor, the least and the weak.” One can easily see how this right and duty to denounce is both religious and moral. It is inseparable from the evangelizing mission of the Church.

14. In the Old Testament God chose prophets to proclaim God’s word, announcing judgment and hope to Israel. Today the Church fills the role of prophet to herself and to society. Her social doctrine is prophetic. It is both judgment and hope. It calls to conversion. It enkindles hope. It bears the seeds of personal and social transformation.

Social Doctrine in the Context of the Philippines.

15. In 2001 the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR) stated that the social analysis done 10 years earlier by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II, 1991) was still substantively valid. This social analysis (see PCP-II, Appendix I, pp. 275-91) described the major problems of our country in terms of:

a. Political imbalances;

b. Economic imbalances; and

c. Ambivalent cultural values reinforcing these imbalances.

16. To prepare for the great Christian Jubilee of the Year 2000, we your Bishops picked these three major problems for pastoral reflection. Premised on theological and moral principles such as those in the social doctrine of the Church, we wrote three pastoral exhortations: on Philippine Politics (1997), on the Philippine Economy (“Development with a Human Face, 1998), and on Philippine Culture (1999). To cap these three pastoral reflections, we suggested a long term response to our problems by writing a pastoral exhortation on Filipino Spirituality: what it means to be holy in our Philippine situation (2000).

17. We urge you, beloved People of God, to revisit these pastoral exhortations. They contain principles, directives and guidelines for action from the social doctrine of the Church that remain valid and relevant for the problems that currently beleaguer us. A reflective perusal of these documents would prevent the kind of misinformation, misinterpretation, and misunderstanding of the Bishops’ position on various burning social issues.

18. Let us briefly recall the principles in the church’s social doctrine that PCP-II chose to emphasize in the light of our social problems:

18.1. Integral Development ? Human Dignity and Solidarity (see Paul VI, Populorum Progressio [PP], 14; John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [SRS], 29, 31; PCP-II, 294; CSD, 130-134, 192-93). The human person is at the center of the Church’s social doctrine and the subject as well as object of development in all human dimensions.

18.2. The Universal Purpose of earthly Goods and Private Property. This social principle (see Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 63; PCP-II, 297; CSD, 171-181) underscores the injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all.

18.3. Social Justice and Love. These are “the principal laws of social life” (John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 39; see PCP-II, 304; CSD, 201-08; DCE, 26, 28). The lack of consideration for the common good is a lack of social justice. “? for interpersonal relationships and social structures to be put in order, justice is not sufficient. Love is necessary” Social justice as the justice of the common good (PCP-II, 305). Here we add the words of Pope Benedict XVI as a comment on our politics: “Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now” (DCE, 28).

18.4. Peace and Active Non-Violence (see Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, 1971, nos. 40, 65; CSD, 494-96). “The road to total liberation is not the way of violence, class struggle or hate; it is the way of love, brotherhood and peaceful solidarity” (John Paul II, To the People of Tondo, Feb. 18, 1981, no. 7; also his speech To the People of the Sugar Plantations, Bacolod, Feb. 20, 1981).

18.5. Love of Preference for the Poor. As PCP-II states, “The common good dictates that more attention must be given to the less fortunate members of society. We as a Church, indeed, opt for all men, women and children of the world but above all, preferentially we opt like Jesus for the ‘little ones,’ the poor and marginalized of our societies” (PCP-II, 312; see also SRS, 39, 42; PP, 47; CSD, 182-84).

18.6. The Value of Human Work. The primary basis of the value of work is not what work produces objectively but who does the work, i.e., the human person (see John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, 1981, nos. 6, 11-12). Again, here are the words of PCP-II: “The human person is the subject of work and must not be treated as an instrument of production. The person has primacy over things” (PCP-II, 316; see also CSD, 270-81).

18.7. Integrity of Creation. “Because the integrity of God’s creation is violated, our people suffer the destruction brought about by droughts and floods. Those disasters cannot be traced merely to the uncontrollable powers of nature, but also to human greed for short term economic gain. The physical limitations of our natural resources imply a moral demand, the duty of responsible dominion over nature” (PCP-II, 323; see SRS 26, 34; CBCP, What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land, 1988; see also CSD, 461-87).

18.8. People Empowerment. “No social transformation is genuine and lasting where people themselves do not actively participate in the process?. We understand ‘people power’ to include greater involvement in decision-making, greater equality in both political and economic matters, more democracy, more participation” (PCP-II, 325-26; see CSD, 189-91).

19. To the above social principles, we add two more principles from the social doctrine of the Church that the NPCCR in 2001 emphasized, namely, the leading role of lay people in social transformation (see also CSD, 541-74) and the family as the focal point of the evangelizing mission of the Church in the Philippines (see also CSD, 209-254).

20. Fifteen years after the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, our social situation has not substantially changed. The above principles from the social doctrine of the Church remain relevant and prophetic. They represent a judgment on the way we are as well as hope for what we can be as a nation.

The Social Doctrine of the Church Applied to Some Burning Social Issues.

21. In the light of the social doctrine of the church, we state the CBCP position on the following burning issues:

22. The Family under Siege.

We are deeply troubled by attempts to legislate or make as state policy ideas that tend to weaken or even destroy cherished religious values regarding the nature of life, the nature of marriage as union of man and woman, child bearing, the values formation of children, etc. Such ideas are part of an orientation that is fundamentally secularistic and materialistic, separated from their religious and moral roots. We find them in pending bills about population, marriage and family, reproductive health, and sex education in schools. The Filipino family is ill-served by these developments. As the foundation of a civilization of life and love, the family is most seriously threatened. Therefore, Catholic lay groups as well as our Bishops’ Commission on Family and Life have made many public interventions about these and they shall continue to do so.

23.  Charter Change.

We reiterate what we said in January this year:  Elections in 2007 must not be cancelled.  The Church recognizes that in a democracy power emanates from the people – i.e., that “the subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety?This people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects?but it preserves the prerogative?[of] evaluating those charged with governing, and in replacing them when they do not fulfill their functions satisfactorily.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 395)
While we agree that certain aspects of our Constitution may need amendments and revisions, we do not support hasty efforts to change this fundamental law of the land without the widespread discussion and participation that such changes require. We continue to believe as we did in our statement on Charter Change in 2003, that changing the Constitution involving major shifts in the form of government, requires widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate. This is best done through a Constitutional Convention. The reasons for constitutional change must be based on the common good rather than on self-serving interests or the interests of political dynasties.

24. Impeachment.

We wish to make the CBCP position clear and unambiguous on the present impeachment plans:

24.1. We are undoubtedly for the search for truth. Therefore, in all sincerity we respect the position of individuals or groups that wish to continue using the impeachment process to arrive at the truth.

24.2. But as Bishops reflecting and acting together as a body in plenary assembly, in the light of previous circumstances, we are not inclined at the present moment to favor the impeachment process as the means for establishing the truth. For unless the process and its rules as well as the mindsets of all participating parties, pro and con, are guided by no other motive than genuine concern for the common good, impeachment will once again serve as an unproductive political exercise, dismaying every citizen, and deepening the citizen’s negative perception of politicians, left, right and center.

25. Electoral Reform.

We reiterate our call for a thorough reform of the Commission of Elections to restore trust in our electoral process. The call for resignation or even prosecution of a number of the Commissioners should not be lightly brushed aside. The electoral process, including counting of votes, needs to be reformed and modernized before the next elections.

26. Extra-Judicial Killings.

On extra-judicial killings, the CBCP stand is of long standing. We have issued statements on this issue in the past. Needless to say, we join the outcry of groups that have denounced the increasing number of extra-judicial killings of journalists and social activists suspected as sympathizers of insurgents allegedly by some ultra-rightist elements in the military. But at the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the great number of extra-judicial killings that sometimes do not come to light in the newspapers but are known to us in our dioceses. These are killings reported by our people as allegedly perpetrated by insurgents for various reasons, such as agaw-armas operations, the failure to pay a revolutionary tax, or “blood-debt to the people.”
These we also unequivocally denounce. The defense of human rights and of human dignity must itself be just. It has to be impartial, irrespective of religious belief or ideology.


We asked above if the fact of our being Christians has made our society become more peaceful, more fraternal, more just? We ask the question again.

It is easy to answer no if we focus only on the many critical problems that continue to plague Philippine society and that so far have been intractable to any satisfying solution.  And because of the suffering they cause, we give way to a despairing sense of helplessness.

But are we really without hope as a people?

In this Year of Social Concern, we turn our thoughts to what our faith in Christ tells us we must do out of love for our neighbor.  And we see what many of our people, priests and religious, but lay men and women especially – away from the limelight and the glare of publicity – are doing quietly to put into practice what they understand Christian social concern means. Non-partisan groups like Kapatiran and One Voice, when they remain non-partisan, are especially to be commended and encouraged.  So too are the many initiatives (not the least those of our own Church Social Action Centers) at combating endemic corruption in public and private life that are working quietly at the lower levels of government and society. These give us hope that our common task to bring about greater social justice in our country is not without any effect.

We have dedicated this Year of Social Concern to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  We pray that their redeeming love continue to be with us as we work to bring peace and justice to our suffering people.

For the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines,

Most Rev. Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D.
President, CBCP
January 29, 2006