While riding in a public vehicle, I overheard a conversation between two passengers and the driver. They were discussing both national and local issues like the oil deregulation law and the implementation of the ‘No Segregation, No Collection’ policy in regard to garbage collection in Bacolod City. I enjoyed listening to the three and was amazed at the free and healthy flow of ideas and I realized that on issues like these the media should also consider the points of view of ordinary people and not just those in authority.

As I got off the vehicle, the three were discussing the Church and State relationship and clergymen running for political office. My subsequent research on this led me to ask this question: Is it all right for clergymen and women to run for political office? What is the stand of the Church on this?

I’m not sure whether you were on a bus or a jeepney but traveling on public transport of any kind can be most interesting: ‘All human life is there’. (My research shows that that quotation is part of a longer one by Henry James (1843-1916), ‘Cats and monkeys - monkeys and cats - all human life is there’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either cats or monkeys on a jeepney or bus!

But when I’m at home in Ireland I travel by bus frequently and notice many things, especially the kindness of people. One of Ireland’s best-known novelists, Maeve Binchy, got much of her material from events and overheard conversations while traveling by bus.

One slight correction. In the Catholic Church there are ‘clergymen’ but no ‘clergywomen’. A clergyman basically is someone in Holy Orders, a bishop, a priest or a deacon. Religious Brothers and Sisters aren’t members of the clergy. The Church ordains only men, teaching that this is God’s will.

However, generally speaking clergy and religious are not allowed by the Church to run for public office. In Mexico they’re not allowed by state law to do so, but that’s a different issue. On rare occasions the Church will allow a priest or religious to run for office, but this may mean that they have to take a temporary leave from exercising their priesthood, for example, as is the situation with Governor Ed Panlilio of Pampanga. Back in the 1970s there were two religious priests elected to the US House of Representatives, Fr Robert Drinan SJ and Fr Robert Cornell, a Norbertine. However, at the request of the Vatican they didn’t run again in 1980. Both, as far as I know, continued their priestly ministry while in Congress.

The current president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, was a bishop when he announced his desire to run for office. However, the Vatican eventually laicized him, something very rarely done with a bishop, and he ran, and was elected, as a layman. Some scandals about his personal life while still a bishop came to light earlier this year.

So the Church basically doesn’t allow bishops, priests, deacons or religious to run for office. Here in the Philippines they all have the right to do so as citizens. But I remember Cardinal Vidal of Cebu telling a group of priests and religious at a fiesta lunch, ‘If you want to run for office, please come and let me know – and I will suspend you!’ He said it with a smile and we all laughed – but we got his message.

I think that the Church’s stand is wise. The Church, through its bishops and priests in particular, should be reminding the laity that it is their responsibility to engage in honest politics and to work for a just society in accordance with the Gospel. Vatican II’s The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) addresses this whole area in numbers 74 to 76