Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Ethics of Public Policy

          Whatever the outcome of the RH Bill controversy, one thing is sure:  there has to be a continuing dialogue between the Government and the Catholic Bishops about public policy that has manifestly moral or doctrinal dimensions.  Whatever the extreme secularists may say, they cannot ignore the fact that the dominant religion of the country is Roman Catholicism, a major belief of which is that morality cannot be limited to private consciences of individuals but must also apply to the "things of Caesar" that are covered by the social doctrine of the Church and public morals.  Examples of public policy issues that have clearly moral dimensions are those related to the family and marriage, the regulation of private property such as agrarian reform, the setting of a just family wage, the protection of the physical environment, human trafficking, gambling, drug abuse, etc.  Not only the Bishops and priests but also the lay faithful have all the right to bring up moral principles in judging the legitimacy of public policy in such matters.

          Here I summarize the main points concerning the relations between Church and State that have been stressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his book "Values in a Time of Upheaval."  There are seven of them:

          1.  The state is not itself the source of truth and morality.  It cannot produce truth from its own self by means of an ideology based on people or race or class or some other entity.  Nor can it produce truth via the majority.  The state is not absolute.  To maintain otherwise would be pave the way for more Hitlers, Stalins and Pol Pots.

          2.  The goal of the state cannot consist in a freedom without defined contents.  In order to establish a meaningful and viable ordering of life in society, the state requires a minimum of truth, of knowledge of the good, that cannot be manipulated.

          3.  Accordingly, the state must receive from outside itself the essential measure of knowledge and truth with regard to that which is good.  The moral principles of Christian faith could possibly be such guiding principles.

          4.  The "outside" might, in the best possible scenario, be the pure insight of reason.  It would be the task of an independent philosophy to cultivate this insight and to keep watch over it.  In practice, however, such a pure rational evidential quality independent of history does not exist.  Metaphysical and moral reason comes into action only in a historical context.  All states have recognized and applied moral reason on the basis of antecedent religious traditions, which also provide moral education.  In the Philippines, Christianity is the source of such religious traditions and moral education.  For close to five centuries, the Philippines has provided a positive model of a relationship between moral knowledge based on religion and the good ordering of the state.

          5. Christian faith has proved to be the most universal and rational religious culture.  Even today, it offers reason the basic structure of moral insight which, if it does not actually lead to some kind of evidential quality, at least furnishes the basis of a rational moral faith without which no society can endure.

          6.  There should always be distinction between the Church and the state.  By merging with the state, the Church would destroy both the essence of the state and its own essence. 

          7. The Church remains something "outside" the state, for only thus can both Church and state be what they are meant to be.  Like the state, the Church too must remain in is own proper place and within its boundaries.  It must respect its own being and its own freedom, precisely in order to be able to perform for the state the service that the latter requires. The Church must exert itself with all its vigor so that in it there may shine forth the moral truth that it offers to the state and that ought to become evident to the citizens of the state.  This truth must be vigorous within the Church, and it must form men, for only then it will have the power to convince others and to be a force working like a leaven for all of society.

          I cannot think of a better framework for the continuing dialogue of the Government with the Catholic bishops and other moral leaders of the major faiths in the Philippines.  But more importantly, the Catholic lay people with a well formed conscience must be very proactive in educating government officials in all the branches of Government about the moral principles that they are able to arrive at with the use of their reason aided by their faith.  We can apply to ourselves these words of Pope Benedict XVI to the Europeans:  "Today, at this precise hour in history, Europe and the world need the presence of the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and remains close to us in the Holy Spirit.  As Christians, we are responsible for maintaining the presence of God in our world, for it is only this presence that has the power to keep man from destroying himself."  For comments, my email address is