Papua New Guinea: Throne And Altar To Be Kept Separate

Throne and altar are to be kept separate. The Code of Canon Law forbids priests to actively take part in political life.

The bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have had to reiterate the Church’s refusal for priests to put themselves forward as candidates for political elections.

Prelates of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have sent a letter asking “priests to stay close to the people, to help them in the process of human, spiritual, cultural and social growth, guiding them towards a mature conscience without, however, joining the political battlefield directly.”

The letter which was signed by the Mgr. John Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby and President of the Episcopal Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, is a distressed appeal to all priests, defined as "the closest and most trusted co-workers with whom we share the ordained ministry", "seeking holiness in the performance of our sacred ministry in service to others." "It is our duty - the text, quoted by Fides news agency, read - to preach the Good News to our people, to help them grow in holiness and to shepherd the flock entrusted to us by the Good Shepherd." 

“Unfortunately, once again, some of our brother priests are planning to run for political office in the 2012 Papua New Guinea National Election. This is a great disappointment for us bishops and for the majority of our Catholic people. We believe that most priests, religious and lay people share our disappointment: the choice by a priest to enter politics is a betrayal of the people... like in the Gospel story (Jn 10, 12-13) in which a shepherd abandons the flock entrusted to him." The Code of Canon Law is very clear in paragraph 3 of Canon 285: “Clerics are forbidden to assume public office whenever it means sharing in the exercise of civil power."

Meanwhile, paragraph 2 of Canon 287 specifies that clerics “cannot take an active part in political parties, nor can they lead trade unions, except in those cases where, according to the competent church authority, this is necessary in order to protect the rights of the church or the common good.” Permanent deacons, however, are not bound by these Canons. Canon 290 of the Code of Canon Law  clearly states: “Once validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid.”

A priest can become laicised, that is formally and legally return to being a lay person, and however, he retains the permanent status conferred to him upon ordination. Bishops recognise the importance of political work: "It is entirely appropriate that qualified Catholic lay people represent the Church through direct political involvement and thereby find creative ways to apply the Church’s social teaching in shaping specific policies that promote the common good."

However, they continue, "running for public office, as well as to actively campaigning for a political party or candidate, is contrary to the vocation to the priesthood." Priests, in fact, "must proclaim relevant moral principles and explain the Catholic social teaching to all people, especially to politicians and political parties, without suggesting that the Church endorses only one or the other among many morally good ways of organizing government or of seeking to address particular social issues. The priest must offer a clear and ethical stance about right and wrong, based on the Good News of Jesus." For these reasons, the Bishops recall, priests are forbidden by Church law to run for political office (Canon 285).

"It is good and noble when a priest hears the cries of the poor, desires to right injustice and wants to ensure that those suffering have access to basic social services such as healthcare and education. But an honest, hardworking, caring and dedicated priest, a Good Shepherd, already knows that through his call to the ordained ministry, he possesses a moral authority which allows him to unify people and bring about a positive change in communities," the text goes on to say.

The letter points out that no Bishop in Papua or the Solomon Islands has ever given and never will give permission to one of his priests to enter politics: a priest who enters politics will be suspended from exercising his priestly ministry, a suspension that "extends at least two years beyond the time when the priest finally withdraws from politics,” as decided by the Episcopal Conference, calling on the people of God not to encourage priests to take this step, but to find lay representatives worthy of that commitment.

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