Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu in the central Philippines reminded priests in his archdiocese not to use the pulpit to campaign for any candidate in the coming national elections.
“The pulpit is not the right place to campaign for any candidate,” the prelate was quoted as saying in several media reports, but added that priests as citizens have the freedom to support a candidate.
“As a general rule, [Catholic] Church leaders should be nonpartisan,” he said.
“As a bishop, I would tell priests not to use the Church, the pulpit in particular, to endorse a particular candidate,” said the prelate in a report on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“The idea is responsible voting and active involvement, especially among laypeople,” he said.
“We use the word responsible voting discernment [where] we study many aspects of the candidate’s life, his or her capacity, track record and programs, among others,” said the archbishop.
“Laypeople should feel involved. The pope used the words, ‘should meddle in politics.’ They should campaign for those who they believe will deliver something good for the country,” he said.
In Manila, Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the committee on public affairs of the bishops’ conference, urged dioceses to form “circles of discernment” to help parishioners in their choices during the elections.
“The circles of discernment … are a gathering of people, a particular activity wherein parishioners are invited to join so that different speakers who are experts in different fields may discuss the issues,” said the priest.
Meanwhile, Bishop Roberto Gaa of Novaliches said Church leaders should provide guidance to voters, adding that “what’s important … is having discernment.”
“We should be the lead in the process of discerning who to choose among the candidates,” said the bishop who attended a gathering of supporters of presidential candidate Leni Robredo on Sunday.
“At this point, we can say that we are asking the Lord to help us in our discernment. Because, it doesn’t end after we vote since that should be the beginning for us to help,” said Bishop Gaa.
No endorsement for Marcos
Another Catholic bishop, meanwhile, slammed the “endorsement” of the presidential candidacy of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and the vice presidential candidacy of Sara Duterte-Carpio by religious lay leader Mike Velarde of El Shaddai.
“I will make this clear. First, what Brother Mike did was not an endorsement of El Shaddai,” said Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches, spiritual adviser of the group.
“That is not El Shaddai. Is that clear? That is Brother Mike Velarde, who is head of El Shaddai, but it is not the opinion of the body,” said the bishop in a radio interview of Monday, February 14.
Bishop Bacani said Velarde did not consult El Shaddai elders about his decision to raise the hands of the candidates during a prayer rally.
“In my opinion, [Velarde’s] endorsement was wrong. It’s downright wrong. You can’t endorse a man like Bongbong Marcos for president,” said the bishop.
On Saturday, the Lakas Kampi – Christian Muslim Democrats political party announced that Velarde endorsed the candidacy of Marcos and Duterte-Carpio.
A photograph of Velarde that appeared on social media on February 12 shows the religious leader raising the hands of Marcos and Duterte during a prayer rally.
“Now I’ll do something,” he told the crowd. “And in response, shout ‘Brother Mike, the choice is yours!’” said Velarde as he raised the hands of the candidates, adding that Marcos is “(our) presidential candidate.”
Bishop Bacani, however, said El Shaddai members are free to choose their candidates for the May 2022 national elections.
“[Velarde] cannot force his followers to vote for this or that candidate,” he said, adding that Catholics are free to choose who to vote for based on his or her knowledge and conscience.
“There is no command vote in the El Shaddai, unlike in the Iglesia Ni Cristo,” said Bishop Bacani in Filipino, referring to the religious group that is known to endorse political candidates during elections.
A survey conducted by pollster Pulse Asia shows that Marcos remains to be the most preferred presidential candidate among respondents from socioeconomic classes CDE, followed by Vice President Leni Robredo.