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Archbishops Do Not Speak For All Catholics

by Arturo J. Guzman

February 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All Rights Reserved.

As a Catholic, I have been dismayed before the political and ideological activism being practiced by some of our prelates and leaders of our Church, most notoriously Archbishop Alvaro Corrada and Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez who have made a practice of voicing their personal preferences and opinions under the premise of "speaking on behalf of the Church".

Allow me the reminder that the word church, in Spanish "iglesia", derives from the Latin "ecclesia" and refers to the congregation , not as commonly mistaken the institution of the church. Thus, when someone speaks "on behalf of the church" it must be understood that in other than matters of dogma, when a prelate or church official speaks "on behalf of the church" they are theoretically voicing the opinion of the entire congregation. This is a distinction that is dangerously being clouded in Puerto Rico when the preferences of individuals are being passed as those of the entire flock and as such are being publicly imposed upon us as a religious group.

Addressing the issue of Vieques, Archbishop Corrada said that the "Catholic Church would follow a path of civil disobedience", and termed "immoral" the agreement reached between President Clinton and Governor Rossello. Which "church" is he referring to? If in fact he is following the accepted definition, then he is speaking on my behalf and if that were the case he is absolutely wrong. Archbishop Corrada, Arbishop Gonzalez, and others alike, do not have the ecclesiastical or moral authority to speak on my behalf or on behalf of hundreds, or perhaps thousands of other Catholics in Puerto Rico who may not share their political-ideological agenda or viewpoints.

Lest someone misunderstand, allow me to clarify I do not wish to criticize or impair anyone’s right to voice their opinion on matters that they consider relevant in our free and democratic society as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. What I am unwilling to tolerate is that they do it under the collective name of our congregation and seemingly under our authorization and sponsorship.

As such I am equally dismayed at my fellow Catholics who are permitting this travesty, under the false guise of respect, and by their silence are becoming accomplices and acceding to this unilateral imposition of other’s criteria over our own-individually and collectively.

I am weary of the consequences this open intervention may have on the distinct separation between the church and the state. It incites reciprocity, and an serves as an invitation for unscrupulous politicians to begin intervening in the internal and separate affairs of any church. During my life I have had the misfortune to participate and witness these dangerous precedents in other societies, most notoriously those of Ernesto Cardenal (Marxist priest and political-ideological activist later to become Minister of Culture during the Sandinista regime) in Nicaragua who was later to be publicly and personally chastised for similar actions by the Pope.

In his wisdom the Holy Father has already expressed his concern about the political activism of Catholic prelates and officials in Puerto Rico. On the 11th of September, 1999 while addressing a meeting of the members of Puerto Rico’s (Catholic) Episcopal Conference, Pope John Paul II clearly stated: " united as the Episcopal conference do not cease to give your teachings on the problems that preoccupy your Island, without replacing the responsibilities of the politicians and the lay people, and respecting the liberty of option of Catholics over the status and future of Puerto Rico".

In all their unquestioned good will and intentions, I call upon Archbishops Corrada and Gonzalez, and upon all of us as Catholics, to further reflect on the expressions of our Pope before addressing political matters on behalf, and particularly under the name of our Church.

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