Bishops and Moral Leadership -

A Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines


A statement, authored by some priests, recently came out in the press. In effect it was an indictment of the whole Philippine Catholic Hierarchy for their lack of Christian social responsibility within the Church.

We appreciate the sincerely good intentions of those who made the statement. We recognize the validity of some points in their manifesto. We shall always welcome the people of God in our country to speak out, “to reveal their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which befits them as adopted sons of God and brothers in Christ.” It was not what they said, but rather, how they said it that was wrong. To subject the whole Catholic Hierarchy to a trial by publicity without benefit of a hearing certainly went contrary to the directives of Vatican II which declared: “Let it always be done in truth, in courage, and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ.”

The Role of Bishops

This we have from the Apostles themselves: “It would not be right for us to neglect the Word of God so as to give out food: you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the spirit and with wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the work” (Acts 6:24)

Vatican II also states: “Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which He set before her is a religious one. But out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light, and an energy which can serve divine law.” (Gaudium et Spes, IV, 42)

The proper and primary mission of the Church is a work of the supernatural order. But since the Church is concerned with “man himself, whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will” (Gaudium et Spes, Preface, 3), and as we said in our Joint Pastoral Letter of 1967: “since body and soul form the human person, since the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity deigned to become man, assuming body and soul, and elevated mankind to His divine sonship, the Church cannot disregard the needs and the dignity of the human body.”

Consequently, concern for the bodily and temporal welfare of man is an integral part of the mission of the Church.

In short, of its very nature, and accordingly in the hierarchy of objective values, the religious mission of the Church is essentially spiritual, pre-eminently and primarily supernatural. This demands that her part in things of temporal concerns be integrated with and meshed with her religious life. Her mission in the temporal is a work of mercy and love which is the hallmark of Christ’s disciples. (Decrees on the Laity, II-8; Jn. 13:25)

The foregoing principles accordingly define the role of bishops. The salvation of souls is their supreme concern. Toward this attainment all their efforts and sacrifices must be directed. Whatever activity is directed to the temporal welfare of their people must be considered and implemented as an integral part of this predominant charge of sanctifying and saving men.

The Primary Duty of Bishops

To preach the living Gospel and to teach are the primary duties of bishops, in union with and submissive to the supreme authority of the Vicar of Christ.

Restricting ourselves to the question of social justice, as we have just explained it, were the bishops remiss in their primary duty to preach the living Gospel and to teach the social order? We can only cite facts in answer.

It is a fact that in sermons, circulars and Pastoral Letters, as well as through seminars and congresses – diocesan, regional and national – which they have initiated, the Bishops have, jointly and as individuals, exercised moral leadership in social justice.

It is obvious that we can cite only a few of the joint statements and Pastoral Letters of the Philippine Catholic Hierarchy. In citing these we cannot name all the important features, lest we render this letter too voluminous. We have listed, however, some of them in the appendix.

No less an authority than the Plenary Council of the Bishops of the Philippines promulgated in 1953 a decree which in general has still the force of law, and in which are four articles exclusively on social justice.

In 1948 the joint Pastoral Letter of the Hierarchy treated such issues as the true basis for social justice, the earth as meant for all men, the rights and duties of labor, capital and management. In 1949 the Joint Pastoral Letter dealt specifically with social justice and social security.

In a joint Statement at the close of the Holy Year (1950-1951), the Bishops clearly defined the social doctrine on the minimum wage, on the living wage, on the demands of justice in profit-sharing, on the use of superfluous wealth, on the right of workers to organize themselves in labor unions and establish collective bargaining, on the meaning of private property, and its proper expansion. This statement, in fact, spelled out the details for a concrete social program.

In the same Statement the Bishops urged our Catholic schools “to scrutinize their ‘curricula’ in such a way as to intensify instruction on the teaching of the Papacy on social order.” The Bishops also insisted that “those who bear the responsibility of educating young people must be preoccupied with their social formation. Whether you be priest, religious or laymen, if you sincerely and zealously strive to form the minds of youth according to the teaching of the Church on the social question… read and re-read the Encyclicals of the Holy Fathers, the Popes, in quest of solutions.”

Just previous to the national elections, the joint Pastoral Letter, issued on October 11th, 1957, while fearlessly condemning the deeply rooted social cancer of “injustice, double-dealing, malversation of funds, and advancement of private greed and overweening ambition at the expense of the common good,” also defined the responsibility of every citizen and the sacredness of the ballot.

Neither were the Bishops indifferent to the patrimony of our land and the demands of genuine patriotism when they came out with a statement on nationalism on December 3, 1959.

The joint Pastoral Letter of January 8, 1967, entitled “Social Action and Agricultural Development,” heralded the national congress on rural development, sponsored by the Catholic Hierarchy. This stressed the need and right of rural workers to organize themselves into associations, stressed the extension of credit unions and cooperatives. Quoting from Pope John XXIII’s “Mater et Magistra,” they again strongly reminded our Catholic educators that Catholic social doctrine must “be taught as part of the daily curriculum in Catholic schools of every kind, particularly in seminaries.”

It was only a year ago that the Bishops declared the period from May 1, 1968 to April 30, 1969, “Social Action Year,” a year that was also declared such by President Ferdinand Marcos.

The joint Pastoral Letter that proclaimed the “Social Action Year” updated the explosive social imbalance between the rich and the poor, and reiterated the social principles that bind a Christian concerning his earthly possessions and private property, while pointing out at the same time the evil social consequences of graft and corruption in the government. A good portion of the letter also affirms the Church’s stand on the Land Reform Code and the need of man power development, while suggesting realistic measures such as would make them effective.

None other than the honorable head of our government’s Land Authority subsequently sent the Bishops a letter of appreciation for their statement in the Pastoral, and he has resorted to quoting the statement in promoting the Land Reform Code. Indeed, we are also grateful to the Press for the front-page treatment given to the same statement.

After due consideration of the facts that we have just cited, it would be in order to raise another question. “Have these documents and this teaching reached the People of God in our land?”

If the answer be an affirmative, then what happened to them? Apparently the seed that the letters planted must have fallen among the wayside, or on rocks, or have sprung up among thorns. (Mat. 13:18-23)

If the answer is negative, we contest it, for it should be known that aside from the press releases, joint Pastoral Letters and Statements are usually sent to all the clergy, the seminaries, Catholic Schools and mandated religious organizations for their study and guidance, along with the expectation that they take it upon themselves to implement them, and bring them to the knowledge and understanding of their respective subjects and charges.

Is it possible that there are among those who are now demanding from the Bishops one statement after another on the Social Question, such as have not read the teachings of the Bishops for the last twenty years?

Pastoral and Social Works

Words must be translated into action. It is a fact that Bishops should do a lot more in translating their teachings into action. A fair estimate of their efforts cannot deny that more than 2000 social action projects were inspired or undertaken by the Bishops in the past two years alone and stand out as positive undertakings and proofs that they earnestly intend to do a lot more.

It is a bit ironical to note that it is the government who seems more appreciative of the modest contribution of the Bishops and priests towards its program of self-sufficiency in rice production, for example, than the men of the cloth.

Cognizant of their primary mission which is one of the supernatural order, our dioceses are still being burdened with the construction of churches, seminaries and schools. It seems hardly known that several of our dioceses are in such a state of need that they still continue to get annual subsidy from the Holy See. Several dioceses, too, not even ten years old, hardly subsist.

Nevertheless, aware that the temporal welfare of their flock is an integral part of their mission, aware too, of the limited means of their faithful, Bishops have been going abroad to solicit funds for their social projects.

Moreover, it is clear that religious trust funds and foundations, when they do exist, cannot be employed for purposes, however worthy, other than those specifically intended by the donors.

Application of Principles

The Bishops are being pressured to issue statements that would specify when and how violations against the Land Reform Code, against the Minimum Wage, the Living Wage, and against other leading social teachings of the Church are considered mortal sins.

In these times, particularly, are such statements called for? Would they do more harm than good? The Bishops, as we have exposed, have spoken out time and again on the social doctrine of the Church. Must they also go down and discuss individual cases and take up the tasks of the pastors, the moral theologians and the confessors?

Vatican II gives us our answer. It declares that it is for the pastors of the Church to “clearly state the principles concerning the purposes of creation and the use of temporal things, and must make available the moral and spiritual aids by which the temporal order can be restored in Christ.” (Decree on the Laity, II-7)

Thus, in such burning issues as birth control, racial prejudice, social justice, and nuclear war, the Council Fathers, assisted by some 400 priest-theologians and experts, took pains to merely define, as it were, the doctrine and principles involved, as well as their binding force on the individual conscience, without going into particular applications.

This was so, simply because the application of the doctrine and principles depend in great measure on individual circumstances and on the formation itself of an individual conscience. The judgment on a factual violation of social laws should be left in its widest extent to the moral theologian, the confessor, the spiritual counsellors, and guides. This belongs to the competency of the judge not of the legislator.

It smacks of excessive paternalism if our priests and educated laymen have to depend so much on their “elders,” necessitating before all others a consultation with their Bishops to determine when a factual violation of land reform is a mortal sin or not, to determine the morality of Parity Rights, to settle the questions of military bases and foreign monopoly of our natural resources. A litany of “don’ts,” of moral threats in the form of a catalogue of mortal sins, not to mention the fulminations of excommunications, are in little keeping with the spirit and letter of Vatican II.

In closing, we fervently exhort our vulnerable clergy and our beloved faithful to read and study the encyclicals of the Popes, the documents of Vatican II, the teachings of your Bishops as applied to our country.

Because man has declined in spirituality, he finds his material needs to be his greater concern. He experiences more intensely his material and economic needs, because he has lost the ability to see his spiritual needs.

“We ourselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church,” Vatican II tells us. We therefore appeal to our clergy and faithful, our “fellow-workers for the truth” (Jn. 3:8), but more specially to our priests who share with us the same priesthood in their degree, to lend “their services and charismatic gifts that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart,” and thus “restore all things and all hearts in Christ and for Christ.”


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:


Bishop of Capiz

Chairman, Episcopal Commission on Social Action

Baguio City

July 5, 1969



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Bishops and Moral Leadership - A Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines