By far, the most entertaining part of the PCSO debacle is watching Catholic bishops perform the most skillful mental gymnastics in order to justify their possession of luxury SUVs at the expense of the State. Well, more so than their usual fare of theological ass-pulling. From crying persecution and pointing the finger at other bribed religious groups (no other sects are known to have been bribed) to the latest non-apology of “we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you”, the CBCP will stop at nothing to prove to the world that having God on your side rarely ever means you have the facts on your side.
While the bishops promise to return the SUVs, as if that would solve everything, Fr. Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus has argued in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the illegality of the “gift” vehicles depended on “the purpose and uses” of the cars. The rationalization is that churches provide a service to society that the State cannot. Thus, the government can legally provide money to religious organizations (as with other not-for-profit agencies) for this end, most significantly in the form of tax exemptions.
Atty. Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, questions this reasoning, saying that it doesn’t matter that public money was supposedly used for charitable causes. The Establishment clause, which states that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion…” is not the one trampled on by the PCSO gifts to the bishops, according to Pangalangan. It is a different section in the Constitution which states that “No public money or property shall be appropriated… for the use, benefit, or support of any church….” This, he explains, is specific and prohibitory language denying clerics from entangling their private vows of poverty with public money.
Despite a ringing endorsement from Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the expectation that it’s perfectly fine, even desirable, to fund sectarian charities for as long as they avoid proselytization has been the cause of much grief and it is fundamentally unfair, especially to the religious groups themselves. Christianity, and other religions to some extent, received a mandate from God himself to spread the faith. Asking churches to “take our money but, please, don’t spend it on religious knickknacks” is naive. Insinuated in every publicly-funded recollection, religious idol, invocation is the blessing from the State for the belief that beyond our material world, there is an immaterial one, of which a special few have knowledge.
There can never truly be a separation between the sacred and the profane. If it is indeed true that the God of Abraham pervades all things, then social conservatives all over the nation are perfectly in the right when they protest against the RH Bill, divorce laws, and equal rights for LGBTs. These advocacies are undeniably against Catholic teaching and could lead to eternal supernatural torture even after death. Even starving to death is nothing when compared to the hell of the Christians.
Though the Catholic Church abuses the principle of the separation of Church and State to protect itself from penalties while meddling in public affairs, the doctrine itself enshrines doubt. Doubt in the truth of any religion. It says that religious claims are inferior to other kinds of truth claims. For, if any belief about the nature of reality, so long as it is couched in religious terms, is valid in public discourse, then the wall of separation implicitly declares that religious truths aren’t really true. Contrast this with FDA policy on the medical aspirations of alternative medicine that have to be apologized for with the blanket statement, “no approved therapeutic claims.” Despite the lack of empirical evidence, there is no such legally mandated disclaimer for Fr. Suarez’s faith healing masses in Trinoma.
If prayers worked, no thinking atheist could ever argue against state sponsorship of a provably effective process that could save lives and provide resources literally out of thin air. That is why the separation of Church and State reveals the lack of confidence of a society in religion. And when the Church enjoys secularism’s benefits, they unwittingly support skepticism in their own religious claims. It is unimaginable for a nation to adopt the separation of science and State. But, if religious truths are really true, why is it acceptable to separate religion and government?
If the CBCP is right about Catholicism, then it cannot be denied by anyone that the best use of our time is to surrender to their demands, given that eternal life hangs in the balance. There is no in-between. It is either we subject their pretensions to moral and metaphysical authority to the same standards we apply to other truth claims or we reject all notion of objective truth.
This whole SUV situation is “a drop in the bucket” when you take into consideration from whom the Catholic Church receives its marching orders. For the service of guiding souls towards everlasting paradise, it is impossible to exaggerate how important their service is. That is, if the Roman Catholic Church is indeed the One True Faith™ among thousands of false ones. If they are not, then their service is beyond useless and priests are nothing more than state-subsidized professional liars.
Without questioning the Church’s religious beliefs, it is pointless to criticize the Church on its purported moral authority.
(Image taken from Sharing Our Spaces)