‘State cannot silence the Church’ — priest-legal expert

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Photo courtesy of Nathaniel Bullecer Pagalan from the UST Central Seminary.

A PRIEST and legal expert has stressed that the Church can speak its mind on government affairs and cannot be muzzled by the state.

“When there is no compelling interest, the state should not interfere in the practices of the clergy. [But if there is], the state should interfere in the least intrusive way possible,” said Thomasian alumnus Fr. Ranhilio Aquino in his lecture during the 82nd Thomasian Alumni Priests Association homecoming at the Buenaventura G. Paredes, O.P. building last Jan. 25.

Aquino made the statement following recent attacks by President Rodrigo Duterte against the Church and clergymen over their condemnation of the government’s bloody war on illegal drugs, which has claimed the lives of some 6,000 drug suspects.

Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, said the principle of separation of Church and State, under Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policies), Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, is often misunderstood. It states: “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”

This provision, Aquino said, does not stop the Church from making statements against the government. In fact, the Constitution accommodates religion and does not exclude it, he said.

Article III (Bill of Rights), Section 5 of the charter states: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

“They (constitutional provisions) are not meant to stop the Church from commenting about the state. They are not meant to stop the Church from even making suggestions to the state,” he said.

Aquino lamented the declining influence of the Church in national life. “The influence of religious institutions will never be the same as in the past,” he said.

The alumni homecoming, which had the theme “Communio, Communitatium” or “communion of communities,” was held from Jan. 24 to 25.

The benediction was led by Bishop Victor Bendico of Baguio.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, representative of the Holy See to the United Nations, led the closing Eucharistic celebration while Tarlac Bishop Enrique Macaraeg delivered the homily.

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