PASTORAL LETTER: A matter of conscience

(Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, addressed to “The People of God in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and all persons of good will, issued on 3 May 2016)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 07 May) — In an earlier pastoral letter, I have outlined five C’s as criteria for choosing candidates for public office. These are: Conscience, Competence, Compassion, Companionship, and Commitment.

Conscience, to my mind, is the first and most important criterion. The candidate must be a person of integrity and honesty. He or she follows the dictates of his conscience that tells him what is morally right and wrong. He respects human rights and the dignity of every person. He is transparent and accountable in the conduct of his public office.

Voters too are expected to vote according to your conscience. The Church does not have any official candidate or political party to support. But as your pastors, we have the duty to remind voters to vote according to your conscience, and to make sure that your conscience is well formed and informed in accordance with the Gospel values that the Church proclaims. What are these basic values that should be the bases for voting with our conscience?

“Thou shall not kill.” Human life is sacred from the moment of conception to its natural end. As Christians, we believe in the dignity of every person made in God’s image and from which flow human rights – the most basic of which is the right to life. The Church proclaims the Gospel of life and opposes the culture of death.

Some manifestations of the culture of death are abortion, war, capital punishment – and extra-judicial killings. These summary killings, without formal charges and due process, can never be justified – whether or not the victims are suspected criminals or rebels or workers on strike. These killings are illegal, immoral and sinful.

Lately, I have received a deeply disturbing report on Davao City. In 1998 – 2015, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented 1,424 extra-judicial killings. The victims include 132 children (17 years and below). None of the perpetrators of the so-called “Davao Death Squad” has been apprehended. The prime responsibility for the inaction over these unsolved crimes must rest squarely on the Mayor and local government officials. A city with such a high rate of unsolved killings cannot be called a city of peace and order. (cf. www.amadopicardal.blogspot.com)

“Thou shall not steal.” Those who are guilty of this commandment are not only those petty thieves who steal hundreds of pesos. The worst offenders are corrupt politicians who use their office to enrich themselves and have millions of pesos deposited in their bank accounts. Can a genuine Christian, in conscience, vote for corrupt candidates?

Pope Francis has reminded us of global warming and the need to protect the environment.

Ecological destruction is also a manifestation of the culture of death. As Christians we need to care for the needy and to care for the earth. Can a genuine Christian, in conscience, elect candidates who destroy the environment through irresponsible logging and mining and issue permits that destroy our natural resources?

As Christians we value marital fidelity. Adultery is sinful and immoral, a violation of the sixth and ninth commandments. Can a genuine Christian, in conscience, vote for those who flaunt their infidelities?

We urge you not to sell your votes. We urge you to vote for candidates of conscience with a consistent pro-life ethic and reject candidates who promote the culture of death.

The choice you make will determine whether we live in the light and progress as a nation or bring back the darkness that we have experienced and rejected in the past – an autocratic regime characterized by violence, human rights violations and corruption, and a reign of terror and greed.

Candidates who have not undergone change themselves and live moral lives are not worthy and capable of changing our society. Change begins within each one of us. It is we as a people who can change our society. So once again, we appeal to you to vote according to your conscience. And to vote for candidates of conscience – i.e., persons of moral integrity. (Antonio Ledesma, SJ is the Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro. Pastoral letter issued 3 May 2016 and read this during a prayer for the eelections on May 5).