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A Catholic politician is not a Church whipping boy

TAIPEI (SE): The outcome of the presidential elections held in Taiwan on January 16 may signal the coming of a new era for the people of the island conclave.

But in Church circles, a big topic of interest has been the election of the first Catholic, Chen Chien-jen, as a vice president, with many Catholics seeming to believe this makes him a Church whipping boy in the parliament.

On the other extreme, UCAN reported Faustina Huang Nuanting, from the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, as saying that before Chen was elected, the secretary general of the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, Father Otfried Chen, explained that while Chen may be a Catholic, the Church itself should stay out of party politics.

When asked by the media why Catholic candidates did not campaign on Church property, Father Chen said the Church should not be equated with worldly nations or political parties.

“The Church is proclaiming the kingdom of God and its values are beyond time and space, race, age, gender, country boundaries, such as truth and love, justice and peace, unity and tolerance, repentance and sanctification,” he said.

He pointed out that hosting political activities on Church grounds is out of the question, as it would contradict the Church’s message and mission.

The Sunday Examiner received a photograph of Chen with the archbishop of Taipei, Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan, at the parish of St. Christopher’s. However, offering hospitality to a public figure at the church is a far different thing from supporting the person’s party-political agenda among the Catholic people.

Nevertheless, some were inclined to read sinister things into the photograph, as St. Christopher’s is the biggest parish in the city. However, it is mostly an English-speaking parish and frequented by non-Taiwanese migrant workers, who do not have a vote in the elections.

Huang quoted Joseph Lee, the president of the National Council of the Lay Apostolate in Taiwan, as saying that he had asked its member organisations in all dioceses to remain neutral during the elections. He said that they should adhere to the gospel teaching, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

However, Huang points out that when comparing the remarks of Pope Francis and examples set by some bishops’ conferences in other countries, we can see that the glib biblical phrase, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” does not mean the Catholic Church should keep its mouth shut on politics.

Instead, the Church should ponder more the method of proclamation of the kingdom of God, by emphasising the value of transcendence and assisting Catholics to fulfill the Church’s mission through their political engagement.

But pushing the barrow of one particular religion is not the way to do it, as Huang notes that parties with a religious background received on average less than two per cent of the vote during the January Taiwanese election, which shows that their platforms do not reflect the values of the general public.

She cited the example of the Faith and Hope League, a party seen by many as homophobic. It reportedly sent out a petition to public primary and secondary schools as part of its Plebiscite on Protecting Families Campaign, which was not well received.

Parents were asked to sign the petition in support of traditional family values. Specifically, it was rejecting same-sex marriage and created concern among many parents, who were unsure whether they would suffer any consequences if they did not sign it, especially as it was included as part of their children’s homework.

“I could not help but question the strategy, given that the Faith and Hope League said it manifested the values of family and marriage. Instead, love should be their core value, but their version of so-called love was agitating and done in a way that exploited the public school system to pressure parents to involuntarily support their campaign,” Huang said.

She also pointed out that the younger generation revealed its political influence via the Internet, the use of which has indeed ushered in a new level of public participation in politics, where many people no longer accept decisions without prior consultation.

The most important task for the new leaders is to collect and digest the various views of the people, using them to formulate and implement policies that will best serve the interests of society.

The former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, told the Sunday Examiner in 2005 that he does not think that there is such a thing as a Catholic bent on politics. He explained that Catholic politicians must of course follow their consciences, but this applies to everyone.

However, he did note that because of Catholic tradition, they are more likely to support policies like progressive taxation and those with a community-based emphasis, but beyond that he believes that the call of all politicians is to support justice, peace and the common good.

Huang was emphatic in saying that no elected leader should be expected to help the Church or push any perceived agendas. 

Instead the Church in Taiwan should learn from the spirit and style of Pope Francis and respect other viewpoints, while avoiding making decisions within small circles.

The same form can be followed when dealing with issues in a local political, economic or social context, as the Church has done in both South Korea and Hong Kong.

Huang concluded, “To assist people to fulfill their social obligations, the Church in Taiwan should empower itself to acknowledge Taiwan’s key social issues in order to carry out the Church’s social teachings.”


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