Catholic politics

As the Filipino people prepare to engage in another election, the question is whether candidates will engage in serious policy discussion or will elections again be based on cheating, money and popularity contests. The other intriguing question is whether there is a Catholic vote. Together with this question is the debate on whether there is such a thing as Catholic politics.

Ever since Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pace in Terrim” was addressed in 1963 to all “men of goodwill” rather than just Catholics alone, it is apparent that the encyclical and its messages are for every person. One of the reasons for this broadening the audience for these messages of the encyclicals is because the Church has always maintained that moral truth is available to all men and women through reason alone.

Some universal messages of the Church in the encyclicals include any pre-emptive war of any kind, against the enrichment of the wealthy in poor and rich nations alike at the expense of the working and middle classes and the pursuit of maximizing shareholder value and profit to the detriment of any other meaningful consideration.

All these social, economic and political issues can be addressed by the Church’s Catholic Social Teachings contained in the different encyclicals. According to the prominent Catholic writer Matthew Walther: “Instead of lionizing the neoliberal banalities Davos Man, Catholic Social Teaching articulates a morally inflected defense of internationalism that makes people suspicious of it – the obliging attitude toward corporate power, the soft cultural imperialism of liberal nongovernmental organizations – while insisting upon its indispensability for the common good.”

I have written in previous columns about the roots of Catholic Social Teachings in the last decade of the 19th century. Walther continues: “The idea that Catholic Social Teaching can inspire secular politics is not new. The papal politics of the interwar period, which spoke to the anxieties of a world torn between the failures of laissez faire economics and the growing threat of totalitarianism, were read enthusiastically by Franklin Roosevelt. Today Pope Francis, in keeping with many recent occupants of the Chair of Peter, addresses his writings to ‘all people of goodwill’ rather than to the Catholic faithful alone as he inveighs against the spoliation of the Amazon region, wage slavery in Asia, the theft of natural resources in Africa and the replacement of civic life with algorithm abetted consumerism in the developed world.”

I am writing this column now because of my personal concern that we may not have Pope Francis with us for a much longer period. He is 84 years old and his recent surgery indicates that he has possible illnesses.

I have become a fervent admirer of Pope Francis, especially the ideas and causes he espouses. There is a strong possibility that the next pope will be in the same mold as Pope Francis.

He has written in his encyclicals and teachings views that the conservative elements in the Church consider radical. There are talks that once Pope Francis passes away, the conservative wing of the Church will choose a pope in the conservative mold again.

His encyclicals might be put aside because it has been viewed negatively by powerful elements in society as a whole. For example, he has kept repeating that he is against laissez faire capitalism or the maximization of profits. He insists that trickle down theory – that the poor will ultimately benefit from the generosity of the rich and that the richer the rich become, the more the poor will benefit – has never worked and will never work. We have seen how, even during the pandemic, a miniscule number of rich people have become richer while the overwhelming number of poor people have become poorer.

His latest advocacy is for universal health care which is a health care system in which all residents of a country – rich or poor – have equal access to health care. Businessmen should note that the pope did not say that businesses should provide their employees with appropriate health care. This would mean that health care for employees would be dependent on the profitability of the business. Instead, Pope Francis says that society – through government – must provide everyone equal access to the health care system.

In the same encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis accepts the right to property but states that this right “can only be considered a secondary natural right” when compared to human dignity. The pope has attempted to reorient the right to property as a responsibility for the care of the whole planet. He says the positive meaning of the right to property: “I care for and cultivate something that I possess in such a way that it can contribute to the good of all.”

Catholic politics would provide for universal health care, a living wage, environmental preservation such as banning single-use plastics, a ban on death penalty, a policy of preventing feudal and corporate power from overreaching and all the other teachings in the body of work called Catholic Social Teachings.

This has been the advocacy of Pope Francis. Let us pray that his legacy will continue even after he is not here anymore.

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