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Philippine bishop issues election threat to clerics

Butuan Diocese prelate says priests risk punishment if they are seen endorsing candidates in upcoming polls

Philippine bishop issues election threat to clerics

A Philippine bishop is threatening to punish priests if they are caught endorsing election candidates. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 02, 2022 06:18 AM GMT

Updated: March 02, 2022 02:56 PM GMT

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines has threatened to punish priests if they endorse candidates in upcoming presidential and legislative polls in May.

Bishop Cosme Damian Almedilla of Butuan in Agusan del Norte province issued the threat in a March 1 directive aimed at priests in his Mindanao Diocese.

“The bishop may … impose sanctions or administrative restrictions on anyone, especially the clergy and religious, under his jurisdiction who infringe on the directive,” it said.

A cleric’s concern must be the witnessing of the Gospels rather than winning an election, he said.

“To embody the witnessing role, we [clergymen] actively get involved in electoral processes through the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting [PPCRV],” he added.

The PPCRV is a non-partisan organization affiliated to the Catholic Church that works to ensure free, fair and honest elections in the Philippines.

Catholic politicians, in so far as they are baptized, have all the rights and spiritual privileges, if they ask for it, just like any other Catholic

For years, the PPCRV has been the Catholic Church’s election arm and lay movement. It has also been the “citizens' arm” of the Commission on Elections since 2010.

Bishop Almedilla said a priest’s role in politics must remain within the organization’s structure, which seemed to contradict a recent pastoral letter from the bishops’ conference that suggested that Catholics denounce an alleged attempt by a presidential candidate to whitewash abuses that occurred during the martial law years under Ferdinand Marcos Snr.

The candidate was presidential frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the dictator’s son who said the martial law period was a “golden” era in Philippine history.

We must maintain the official stand as politically discreet, Bishop Almedilla said.

Bishop Almedilla also prohibited political advertisements or posters within church premises including the use of churches as venues for political rallies.

The prelate, however, did not ban politicians from paying clergymen courtesy calls for spiritual guidance.

“Catholic politicians, in so far as they are baptized, have all the rights and spiritual privileges, if they ask for it, just like any other Catholic,” he said.

He also banned priests from celebrating Mass at headquarters of politicians to preserve the political neutrality of the Catholic Church.

Celebrating Mass for politicians or the conferral of blessings must be done in a church, he said.

Soliciting favors from candidates for church projects was also prohibited.

Parish priests, with the consent of the bishop, may impose sanctions or administrative restrictions upon lay leaders involved in any form of election fraud, the directive said.

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