“Thou Shalt Not Steal” –
A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Allow us to speak to you with the utmost sincerity and directness.
Graft and corruption – in the plainest of language, stealing from the public through the misuse of influence or position – has become, to our shame as a people, an ordinary fixture of our nation’s public life. President Aquino herself has admitted that it has returned, if not to the same extent, at least with equal shamelessness during her administration.
Such stealing, in and out of government, is, to be sure, nothing new. But we are dismayed that it has become so widespread and has largely gone unpunished. In fact, many who steal seem to no longer care to hide the illicit fruits of their stealing. What makes us even more sad is this: acts of graft and corruption or toleration and connivance with them are no longer ordinarily viewed as sin, but are often considered as acts of cleverness (when uncaught) or mistakes (when caught). But they are no longer considered as sin or offenses against the Lord who has commanded us not to steal, sees everything we do, and is revolted by these acts of graft and corruption. This sin is today especially hateful before God because it steals money from the already poor. Stealing from public funds is so much more food plucked from the mouths of the starving, so many more chains binding us, plunging us deeper into the enslaving spiral of poverty from which we are begging to be extricated with outside help. Under present circumstances, it becomes a sin of the blackest hue, a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance (cf. James 5:4).
Sins of graft and corruption cannot be condemned enough. For they destroy or obscure the image of God in those who perpetrate them, and harm the dignity of the children of God in those who are their victims. Acts of graft and corruption can be death-dealing and are always oppressive of God’s children. For the way to life is in keeping the commandments, among which is “Thou shalt not steal”, and in loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 19:16-19). Those who act otherwise endanger their eternal salvation, and expose themselves to death, the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), even as they deprive others of the opportunity for a more abundant life. Hence, we, your bishops who have received from Christ the mandate to teach all men to carry out everything that the Lord has commanded (cf. Mt. 28:20), condemn graft and corruption in our society as a life-destroying plague.
We are conscious that we, your bishops, also have our share in this sin, and hence we express our repentance even as we ask for the forgiveness of the Lord and those we have harmed. But while acknowledging our own sinfulness we want to exhort you, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to likewise condemn this sin which tarnishes our name as a Christian nation, and harms not only ourselves but our mission to spread the light of Christ in this part of the world.
But it is not enough to condemn. We must also act. What can we do?
We must all examine ourselves, act with honesty ourselves and refuse to commit acts of graft and corruption or be accomplices, by action or inaction, in their commission. For example, we must resolve to pay our just taxes and refuse to bribe tax collectors and other government employees. We must refuse to participate in illegal gambling, one of the worst occasions for graft and corruption in our country today.
We should launch a massive program of moral formation, increasing our present efforts in this direction. Such a program must start in the home, and be carried out in our schools, organizations and churches. This moral education should teach us to “Avoid greed in all its forms. A man may be wealthy, but his possessions do not guarantee him life” (Lk. 15:15). This formation should also inculcate the truth that it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world if he destroys himself in the process (cf. Mt. 16:26; Mk. 8:36). And it should impress upon all the obligation to return stolen goods (cf. Lk. 19:8-9).
Now, however, we want to bring to your attention and solicit support for something which we in the Bishops’ Conference have been giving thought to for sometime now in consultation with people in government. We in the Conference have finally come to these conclusions:
1. We, the people, must pass from passive endurance to active abhorrence of the crime of graft and corruption. We must begin getting organized against its continued and unpunished recurrence.
2. One concrete way of doing this is for the private sector, firmly supported by the Church, to form anti-graft-and-corruption councils at all levels of our society from the national to the barangay level, especially from the provincial level downwards, since we believe it is easier to organize ourselves at these lower levels.
3. These councils must be composed wholly of private citizens, men and women of good standing in their communities, who while serving in the councils must be free of all political party ties or suspicions of such ties.
4. The councils’ main functions are:
(a) to monitor the appropriation of public funds at the level on which they operate;
(b) to see to it that such funds are used honestly for the purpose for which they are appropriated;
(c) to act as the civilian arm of the Ombudsman in the reporting and prosecution of graft and corruption cases;
(d) to muster and promote in public opinion a truly efficacious rejection of thieving in government; and,
(e) to support on-going efforts of the government and other private initiatives at preventing and minimizing such thieving.
The help of media practitioners will be very valuable in the carrying out of the councils’ functions.
There are already laws and directives that are meant to empower and protect citizens in whatever steps they may take to ensure transparency in public office. We ask the government to guarantee that those laws and directives will be faithfully observed. We further ask that the anti-graft and corruption councils be given endorsement and appropriate assistance.
Finally, we ask everybody to pray for the eradication of graft and corruption in our society, for we are battling not only against human beings but against spiritual, demonic powers which cannot be cast out without the help of prayer (cf. Eph. 6:12, 18; Mk. 9:29).
Are we capable of the kind of action we are proposing here? The answer is in our hands. We have no illusions about the difficulty of the undertaking, about the dangers too attendant on its pursuance. But we call for such action nonetheless. We call on all loyal sons and daughters of the Church to support and take part in what, we trust, will be a massive, persistent campaign against graft and corruption.
We commend all those who are doing their best, against tremendous odds, to eradicate from their midst this deeply-rooted evil. We stand solidly behind them. We commend, too, in highest terms especially those men and women in lower government posts who, despite the prevailing ethos of corruption in their places of work, have nonetheless conscientiously and courageously remained untouched by its corroding force.
There are many of them. They are the unrecognized heroes and heroines of the moment, and for them we have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration. We join them – and all others already active in promoting honesty in public office – in putting the common good above selfish interests. For only when we do so can we truly lay claim to the name Christian.
Let us engrave these words of the Bible in our minds and hearts:
I have seen the wicked triumphant,
towering like a cedar of Lebanon.
I passed by again; he was gone.
I searched; he was nowhere to be found.
See the just man, mark the upright,
for the peaceful man a future lies in store,
but sinners shall all be destroyed.
No future lies in store for the wicked.
May Mary, Help of Christians, help us with her prayers in this fight which we must win.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
July 11, 1989
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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“Thou Shalt Not Steal” – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines