Netizens: Church-State separation not hindrance to clergy’s freedom of speech

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QUEZON City, March 29, 2015—Amid the heated debate over the move to make divorce legal in the country, Catholic lay netizens from across the Philippines emphasize the fact that priests have as much right to voice their dissenting views on issues affecting them as do all Filipino citizens.

Priests and Pinoys

“Sorry to say it bluntly. But it is just downright stupid when people say priests and bishops should not speak on political issues and controversial bills. So freedom of speech for everyone except for the clergy? E ‘di wow. Aren’t they citizens of this country, too?” Anna Cosio said in a Facebook post.

She asked: “And don’t they represent at least 85 percent of the Filipino population who are Catholics? In fact, I’d very much appreciate it if they speak on my behalf as a Filipino Catholic.

Precisely because there is separation of Church and State, Cosio, a registered nurse and member of Filipinos for Life, stressed the Church must speak out if the State tries to interfere with Her teachings, and when rights and freedoms are threatened.

Misunderstood principle

Her friend, Joey Boy Apostol, expressed disappointment that the principle is misunderstood.

Veneracion Winnie agreed, saying anti-Catholic camps neither know what Church-State separation means, nor what freedom of speech entails.

Eric Baena Manalang of Pro-Life Philippines, also agreed, saying separation of Church and State actually seeks to protect the Church from the State, and not the other way around.

He explained that as Filipinos, members of the clergy are free to air their positions on various political matters.

Manalang said priests, as “fathers,” are duty-bound to tend to their flock and not be indifferent nor submissive.

Part of pastoral office

For his part, Mike Gomez noted priests do not exceed their bounds when they are vocal about such things, given that exercising this freedom is an intrinsic part of their pastoral office.

“It is the ones who cower and sit on the fence, or become swayed by erroneous popular opinion who are to be censured,” he said.

Citizens’ rights

According to Jeff Llagas Rosales, Catholic clerics as Filipinos share the same rights with other citizens of the country.

While everyone can be vocal on any social issue, he pointed out that the only difference is priests speak out based on Church teachings, morals, and doctrines vis-a-vis what he referred to as “others’ baseless personal views and opinions.”

Divorce bill

The online discussion came as soon as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released its official position paper against the “Divorce Bill and against the Decriminalization of Adultery and Concubinage.”

In the March 25 document, CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas reiterates the Catholic opposition to the proposal, giving several reasons why dirvorce should not be supported.

To read the complete paper, visit http://www.cbcpnews.com/cbcpnews/?p=53504. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)

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