Standard disclaimers by Church leaders were made when some clerics decided to run for various government posts in the last elections.
Everyone was warned that these priests were running on their own, without sanction and permission from the Church or their bishops, and were actually suspended from their priestly duties.
All these disclaimers spring from, among others, the Church’s Canon Law which specifically prohibits priests from getting involved in politics. Its Canon 285,3 states:
“Clerics are forbidden to assume public office whenever it means sharing in the exercise of civil power.”
This provision is preceded by the admonition that says that clerics should shun anything unbecoming to their state, and also should avoid whatever is foreign to their state, even when it is not unseemly.
For a priest to get involved in politics is clearly considered in the canon as something unbecoming and foreign to his state. In short, he makes himself a fish out of water, a square peg in a round hole, a misfit, no matter how popular or well-loved he may be by the people.
A priest in politics is a clear case of clericalism, a disease quite common in the dark parts of the Church’s long history when there was no clear distinction made between Church and civil powers.
It was a bitter and bloody lesson learned. Hopefully, we don’t have to go through it again.
“Sharing in the exercise of civil power” can include executive, legislative and judicial power like being a governor or mayor, congressman or senator, judge, etc.
This prohibition is based on the very nature of the ministerial priesthood and on the sacred object of its mission. A priest is a witness and dispenser of supernatural values on behalf of Christ and with Christ’s power.
In the first place, a priest with his holy orders is conformed to Christ as head of the Church, and not just to Christ as member of the Church just like what happens with everybody else with his Christian baptism.
As such, his main concern is the salvation of souls which has an eminently spiritual and supernatural character. This spiritual and supernatural character transcends the unavoidable variety and conflicts of positions allowed by the autonomous nature of our temporal affairs, such as our politics.
Though he can have his own personal views in political issues, the priest as priest should try to be above all these to unite the people for what is absolutely necessary for us, without getting entangled in divisive matters, no matter how important they are.
When we hear that priests should speak only about God, it means that even if they have to touch on political issues, it has to be clear that the purpose is to conform things to God, and not to take sides or to get involved in the technical aspects.
Besides, they have to do it such that there is always charity and mercy. Speaking with the forcefulness of God always respects freedom. There is no bitter zeal involved.
Relevant to this point, the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests says:
“The priest cannot take an active role in political parties… In fact, even if these are good things in themselves, they are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state since they can constitute a grave danger of division in the ecclesial community.
“The priest ought to refrain from actively engaging himself in politics in order to be a central point of spiritual fraternity.
“To intervene directly in political activities and in social organization forms part of the lay faithful’s vocation, in which they work by their own initiative together with their fellow citizens.” (33)
I think part of the problem we have now is the perception that we lack credible laymen with authentic Christian spirit and zeal to intervene directly in politics. But is this really so? I have my doubts.
Related to that problem is the well-known clerical mentality quite widespread among us, a result of our history and culture, which leads the lay faithful often to run to the clergy to settle concerns that belong more to them than to the priests.