Exhortation against Violence – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Hierarchy
The problem of violence has been a problem from the very dawn of humanity. Out of envy, Abel was slain by his brother, Cain. The human heart carries within itself the seed of violence as a product of the first sin; it is an aberration in human relationships. Modern times have opened our eyes to the many subtle ways of violence, besides the old violence of naked power, and have given us new insights as to the roots of violence.
A cursory look into the present world situation very clearly shows that violence has indeed spread in different regions and countries. One has only to mention the name of Lebanon, Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Argentina, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, and other countries in the Middle East and Africa, to see how the world has been – and continues to be – beleaguered by the stark and cruel reality of violence. This escalation of violence and its terrible consequences, as shown by contemporary history, truly make us shudder with fear and sorrow.
Pastors from all over the world, gathered in the 1971 Synod of Bishops in Rome, addressing themselves to the problems of justice in the world, had this to say:
Even though it is not for us to elaborate a very profound analysis of the situation of the world, we have nevertheless been able to perceive the serious injustices which are building around the world of men, a network of domination, oppression and abuses which stifles freedom and which keeps the greater part of humanity from sharing in the building up and enjoyment of a more fraternal world. (Justice in the World, Intro., Synod of Bishops, Rome, 1971)
Speaking of their own continent, the Bishops of Latin America, representing 42 per cent of the Catholic Church in the world today, spoke of the same “network of domination, oppression and abuses,” in their own countries in these terms:
From the heart of the diverse nations which make up Latin America, there arises to the heavens, a cry that is very tumultuous and deeply affecting. It is a cry of a people which suffers and demands justice, freedom, respect for the fundamental rights of men and peoples. (Document of Puebla, No. 87)
Like other countries of the world, the Philippines has also been beset with various forms of violence. Recent developments today can make anyone feel uneasy. The daily newspapers are filled with accounts of military encounters, of ambushes and killings, not to mention the more ordinary crimes, the scandals of corruption and other forms of violence. Revolutionary groups are increasing in number and escalating the spirit (and in some cases the praxis) of violence, especially among the urban and rural workers, intellectuals and students and among a growing number of dedicated and concerned Christians, including some clerics and religious.
A grave concern for these realities and trends in the world and within Philippine society compels us to address our people on the subject of violence and the “temptation to violence”. Our primary desire is to awaken the entire Christian community to the seriousness of these concerns. We plead for responsible judgment and decisions, responsible action, in all the ways we are called upon to meet “the problem of violence” in our society today.
In the face of the increasing presence and temptation to further violence in our country, we voice a word of concern and, so far as we are able, a word of counsel.
The existence of poverty and misery, of deprivation and injustices in our midst, – and increasingly weighing down the poor, the powerless, the marginalized sectors of our population – is obvious enough to all who have eyes to see. When in Mexico, Pope John Paul II spoke of our time “when the growing wealth of a few parallels the growing poverty of the masses,” he could have been speaking of our situation as well. Massive indifference and inequalities among the countless poor; the use of force – both overt and subtle – to preserve the privileges of wealth and status; the corruption practised by many of those in public service; the denial and frequent violation of basic human rights, both personal and collective, in the name of the defense and security of certain interest groups or of the nation and state itself; the difficulty if not inability to get justice through the ordinary courts of justice – these and other injustices are the roots and causes of violence in our society today.
Violence not the Answer
In the face of these situations and of the apparent hopelessness in effecting deeper and swifter reforms than those which may have been already achieved, it is not surprising that “the temptation to violence” should trouble many. Here we speak not only of the radical and impatient revolutionaries who have already taken up arms and are even now engaged in intensifying guerrilla warfare, but also of many committed Christians, especially younger ones, who in growing numbers, believe that the very exigencies of their faith and their sense of justice commit them to solidarity with, and action for the victims of social, economic and political injustices.
The personal moral decision which leads to the justification of the use of violence in our present situation is, we believe – at least in the case of some – a matter which reaches into the innermost sanctuary of conscience. It is not our intent here to make peremptory and categorical statements regarding a dimension of the human person which is “the most secret core and sanctuary of men, where he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths” (The Church in the Modern World, n. 16). Nevertheless, as Pastors of the People of God in our country, we believe it is our duty to speak clearly and directly about the teaching of the Church regarding the problem of violence.
First, we must grant that an absolute interdict on the use of violence is not part of the moral tradition of the Church. Pope Paul VI was only echoing tradition when he said that in the case of “manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental human rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country,” (Populorum Progressio, No. 31) the use of force is not absolutely ruled out. Christian moral theology has always required very strict conditions which must be fulfilled before an option for violence may be ethically permitted or justified. These conditions have been given traditional statement in all treatises of Christian ethics.
It is however extremely important to remember that the justification of violence under extraordinary and restricted conditions belongs to the area of morally permissible decisions and actions. What is ethically allowed is not necessarily evangelically recommended. What is permitted by human ethics is not always identified with what is taught or recommended by the Gospel. There can sometimes be, we know, a real difference between what is morally permissible and what is the Gospel ideal. For example, though a man is morally justified in using violence to defend himself against an unjust aggressor, he is also free to refrain from inflicting violence and harm on the aggressor – even in self-defense – in the spirit of the Gospel. The option of non-violence must be respected as one Christian option, as a Christian pattern of action.
In the light of what has been mentioned above, our response is:
1. The escalation of violence and its terrible consequences lead us to reject violence as an effective human or Christian solution to the problems of communities and nations.
2. In our country today, there is a growing evidence that the call to violence is being sounded by the leaders of clearly identifiable ideological groups and by others who are collaborating with them. We must condemn as criminally irresponsible the inciting of the suffering poor to that revolutionary violence which promotes hatred, leads to useless bloodshed and the tragic loss of many lives and seldom, if at all, achieves any good. Those whose first victims will be the poor masses, must be answerable for what violence brings upon our people.
3. In a word where violence all too frequently maims and destroys the personal and sacred lives of men, we must uphold the violence of love and the peace of Christ over hate and destructive violence. The greeting of the risen Lord “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19-20) is ever that of the Church. Like the light of the befriending Spirit, loving peace dissipates the darkness of violence (Jn. 1:15). The Church takes on the example of Christ who healed the wound inflicted by the disciple (Lk 22:49-51) and who lovingly forgave His enemies, even unto death (Lk. 23:24). Our sword must not be the sword of hate (Lk 22:36-28), but the healing sword of courageous, unflinching and universal love.
4. We repeat the teaching of Pope Paul VI, and especially of Pope John Paul II (who in the very near future will be among us in the Philippines), regarding the use of violence as a solution to the social problems which trouble us: “whatever are the miseries and sufferings of men, it will never be through violence, power play or political systems, but through the truth about men that mankind will find its way to a better future.” (Opening Speech, CELAM, Puebla, Mexico, 28 Jan. 1979)
5. We Bishops, recognize our own constant need for conversion and ask God’s forgiveness for whatever share, conscious or unconscious, we may have had, in the situations and structures of injustices in our country.
6. We also appeal to the leaders of the state to be genuinely and effectively concerned with the deprivation and suffering of the poor in our midst, to dedicate their efforts to implementing truly profound social renewal, and to prevent violations (or toleration of violations) of human rights which provoke counter-violence in turn.
7. Finally, all of us who believe in the Gospel message, are surely summoned by our faith both to deeper reflection and prayer, as well as creative and effective action for all the things we believe in – justice, reconciliation, solidarity, brotherhood.
Peace with justice, the opposite of violence, does not just happen. It has to be desired and willed, it has to be worked for and built into the structures of society at all levels. No system, however perfect in theory and in intention, will itself guarantee justice and peace. Access to power by any group of persons can end up in abuse and tyranny. Only continual conversion, constantly renewed moral commitment to justice and reconciliation and constantly examined political commitment to just social structures, can generate justice and brotherhood. A society of justice and peace can be created and can survive only if we are willing to make the needed sacrifices, and exercise continual vigilance. It is to the attainment of these objectives – and not to the flowering of violence – that our present crisis challenges us.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JAIME L. CARDINAL SIN
Archbishop of Manila
October 7, 1979
Feast of the Most Holy Rosary
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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Exhortation against Violence – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Hierarchy