Church’s social mission

Singaporean Angela Faye Oon has some thoughts on Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s letters to Function 8
  Facebook - Angela Oon 
September 24, 2012
OPINION EDITORIAL


THE  Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, a Vatican II document, provides for and emphasises the “duty” of the Catholic Church to involve itself in the activities of man and provide moral leadership to its flock.

The Church's social mission is “constitutive”, NOT extra-curricular or optional.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia has said that "the Catholic Church has always maintained the position that it will not involve itself in political activities."

As a Singaporean Catholic, I'm puzzled. The Pastoral Constitution clearly states that we Catholics have an "inescapable duty" to help our neighbours - including foreign workers and refugees (Part I, Chap 2, No. 27), uphold social justice such as "(safeguarding) basic human rights under every political system" (Part I, Chap 2, No.29), and participate in the political processes of our country (Part 2, Chap 4, The Political Community). It even says that those of us with the "talent" for it should become politicians! (Part 2, Chap 4, No. 75)

The last time I checked, those activities were political - political in the wonderful way that practically every aspect of human life is political. When the Church feeds the poor or opposes euthanasia, it's making political statements. So I'd like to know what our Archbishop means when he uses the term "political activities" since he says that "the Catholic Church" has always maintained that it will not involve itself in such activities. I'm confused.

Or perhaps some political activities are more political than others.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia issued a Pastoral Letter on the 2011 General Elections, speaking of the relationship between Church and State and highlighting the "importance of taking an active role in the political process". His letter would be in accordance with Part 2, Chap 4, No.75 of the Pastoral Constitution, which says that "All citizens ought to be aware of their right and duty to promote the common good by casting their votes."

Does the Archbishop - and the Catholic Church - have the duty to take a moral stance on detention without trial? Let's look at the Pastoral Constitution again, which makes these things explicit. The emphases (in all-caps) are mine.

Part 1, Chap 2, No.27 (Respect for the Human Person):

The varieties of crime are numerous: all offenses against life itself, such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, PHYSICAL AND MENTAL TORTURE, UNDUE PSYCHOLOGICAL PRESSURES; all offenses against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, ARBITRARY IMPRISONMENT, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where people are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons: all these and the like are criminal: they poison civilization; and they debase the perpetrators more than the victims and militate against the honor of the creator.

Part 2, Chap 4 (The Political Community):

Nature and Purpose of the Political Community

When citizens are being oppressed by a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should not refuse whatever is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against abuses of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the law of the Gospel.

In fact, the whole of Part 2, Chapter 4 "The Political Community" summarises quite elegantly the Church's views on the mutual responsibilities of citizens and the state, even as "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."

An excerpt: "...political authority, either within the political community as such or through organizations representing the state, must be exercised within the limits of the moral order and directed towards the common good, understood in the dynamic sense of the term, according to the juridical order legitimately established or due to be established. Citizens, then, are bound in conscience to obey."

The reason I've gone to these lengths (providing documentation and citations) is that I want to make it clear to my fellow Catholics that the Singapore Archdiocese acts in full accordance with the Vatican's ecclesiology (study of church doctrine) when it makes a stand on human rights, even if that stand is in opposition to the state. Indeed the Church has a strict moral imperative to do so.

As Catholics, we look toward the Church for spiritual and moral direction, and the Church needs to have the moral courage to provide such leadership.

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