Catholic Social Teachings on Good Governance


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B.K.S. 1

GOOD GOVERNANCE

IN THE LIGHT OF upcoming MERDEKA celebration

Jojo M. Fung, SJ

  1. This paper has two parts: (i) looking at the context of Malaysia in terms of COMPLAINTS and RECOMMENDATIONS and (ii) using the Catholic Social Teachings, the best secrets of the Church, to throw light on what is GOOD GOVERNANCE and offering certain positive or negative critique.
  2. As Malaysia approaches yet another Merdeka celebration this August 31, 2008, let us ask ourselves two pertinent questions: Is GOOD GOVERNANCE relevant to Malaysia? If so, what does GOOD GOVERNANCE entail in the current context of our nationhood?
  3. In order to better understand the “building blocks” of GOOD GOVERNANCE, it suffice to begin with a list of complaints which are often indicators of the inadequacies of the current government: non-Muslim women forced to wear tudung; local authorities demolished Hindu temple a week before the festival; Sikhs and Christians not allowed to use the word “Allah” except Muslims; subjecting non-Malay to the Syriah courts; in school, non-Muslim children are not allowed to have education in their own religions; moral lessons are reportedly vetted by the Islamic authorities; monetary allocation for Islamic religious purposes but not for the others; various religions find difficulties in bringing priests, musicians, sculptures and other skilled persons; no freedom of conscience to convert in and out of Islam;
  4. Good Governance calls for: restoring the judicial power of the Federation in the courts by restoring Article 121 (1) of the Federal Constitution to its pre-1988 position (as announced by the Minister of Law Datuk Zaid Ibrahim]; set up a judicial appointment commission to restore public confidence in the judiciary; non-Muslims to be tried under the civil laws; setting up of an interfaith body comprising of all the religions, much akin to the initiative undertaken by Dato’ Seri Shafie Apdal of the National Unity Advisory Panel who organized dialogue sessions for the various religious traditions (Muslim and non-Muslim) to talk to each other about common concerns; guarantee the freedom of conscience in order to fulfill a person’s obligation to her/his family;
  5. The five pillars of good governance as offered by the Catholic Social Teachings would be (a) authority and governance; (b) the Common Good; (c) Integral Humanism; (d) solidarity; (e) justice;
  6. Authority and governance. In his 2003 World Day of Peace Message, John Paul II mentioned that authority and governance must “meet the almost universal demand for participatory ways of exercising political authority … and for transparency and accountability at every level of public life.”[1] He further stressed that authority and governance need to be placed “firmly at the service of authentic human development – the development of every person and the whole person- in full respect of the rights and dignity of all” and therefore all processes in the country “needs to be inserted into the larger context of a political and economic programme that seeks the authentic progress of all.”[2] Authority and governance must respect the principle of subsidiarity which alerts those in governance to allow certain decisions to be taken at the local levels rather than imposes/dictates decisions “top-down.” Moreover, Cahill opines that this principle does not suggest simply “vertical authorities interacting with each other, but horizontal interactions with an array of organizations, institutions, and community groups, as well as governmental regimes.”[3] In other words, there is a need for a “side-to-side” consultation as well amongst the different groups in the country.
  7. The Common Good. One of the most important reasons for good governance is to attend to the fulfillment of the common good of ALL citizens, as declared by John XXIII. So what is the common good? It is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups, or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”[4] Hence good governance directed at the common good is a government that “wishes and intends to remain at the service of the human being at every level” to attain “the good of all people and of the whole person.”[5] The government of the day “has the specific duty to harmonize the different sectoral interests with the requirements of justice,” fulfilling the needs of not just the majority but especially the needs of the minority.[6] Above all, the government has to acknowledge that the common good is a means to an end and that ultimate end is a relationship with God and “the universal common good of the whole of creation.”[7]
  8. The Social Doctrine of the Church further urges that “the common good therefore involves all members of a given society, no one is exempt from cooperating, according to one’s possibilities, in attaining it” through “the constant ability and effort to seek the good of others as though it were one’s own good.”[8]
  9. In attempting to fulfill the demands of the common good, the government has to ensure that the right of every citizen to the good of the earth is ensured based on the universal destination of goods, for “God destined the earth and all it contains for all wo/men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all humankind under the guidance of justice tampered by charity.”[9] This is made clear in that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of its members, without excluding or favouring anyone.”[10]
  10. The fulfillment of the common good does not cancel out the right to private property because citizens make “part of the earth her/his own, precisely that part which s/he acquired through work”[11] and yet the citizens must always bear in mind two things: (a) that what is acquired is not just for SELF but for OTHERS as well much so that the owners must “not let the goods in their possessions” to go idle, but to “channel them to productive activity, even entrusting them to others who are desirous and capable of putting them to use in production.”[12]; (b) share our goods with the “immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and, above all, those without hope of a better future.”[13] Moreover, the preferential option of the poor inspires us to do justice to the poor out of charity: “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying the debt of justice”[14] for “what is already due in justice in not to be offered as a gift of charity.”[15]
  11. Integral Humanism. John Paul II believed in an integral humanism – that perspective on humankind that advocates that the human person is a FULL PERSON only “in relation to the mystery of God” who knows her/his “rightful place in the order of creation.”[16] Hence the kind of development that the government implements must be for the whole person. As urged by Paul VI in Populorum Progressio, “Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every person and of the whole person.”[17] The governments should not be just concerned with “how much is a nation producing?” as “how are its people faring?” Hence in what was outlined by Paul VI, the citizens should be gauged by the indexes of: “satisfaction of material needs, reformed social structures that eliminate oppression, opportunities for learning and appreciating a culture, cooperating for the common good, and working for peace, acknowledgement of moral values and their transcendent source, the gift of faith, and the deepening of unity in love.”[18]
  12. The underlying basis of integral humanism is none other than the conviction that “human beings are creatures of God-given dignity, and each person has equal standing to claim that he or she be respected.”[19]
  13. Solidarity. Human beings are social beings and living with others in a community is “an expression of the basic unity of humankind.”[20] The creation stories inform us that God created human beings for each other. All human beings live under the loving gaze of the God who is the creation of ALL humankind. Our Christian faith in the Trinity informs us that communion is at the heart of community life and that “human dignity can be realized and protected only in community. Building bonds between individuals and groups helps to foster conditions within which human beings can flourish, precisely because we are social beings.”[21]
  14. The government of the day needs to ensure that all fellow citizens are interdependent as much as they are in solidarity. Interdependence is described as “a system determining relationships in contemporary world” and solidarity as the “correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a ‘virtue.’”[22] John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“The Social Concern Of The Church”), no.38, that the affective aspect of solidarity “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others but it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good of others.”[23] Further on he elaborates that solidarity “helps us to see the ‘other’ – whether a person, people, or nation – not just as some kind of instrument…. But as our ‘neighbor,’ a ‘helper’ (Gen. 2:18-20), to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”[24]
  15. Justice. In order to ensure the growth of a truly human community among the citizens, the government must ensure justice for ALL. In a nation that subscribes to the free market system, the teachings of Leo XIII in Rerum novarum calls for natural justice that ensures that the citizens’ wages be set at a level that supports “a frugal and well-behaved wage earner.”[25]
  16. In justice, the government is duty-bound to honor the set of rights listed out in the social teachings of the Church. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical, Centissimus annus enumerated human rights as: “the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother’s womb from the moment of conception; the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child’s personality; the right to develop one’s intelligence and freedom in seeking and knowing the truth; the right to share in the work which makes wise use of the earth’s material resources, and to derive from that work the means to support oneself and one’s dependents; and the right freely to exercise one’s sexuality. In a certain sense, the source and synthesis of these rights is religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one’s faith and in conformity with one’s transcendent dignity as a person.”[26]
  17. The government is morally bound to honour the human right to religious freedom which is “based on the dignity of the human person and that it must be sanctioned as a civil right in the legal order of society” and “it is a right that concerns not only people as individuals but also the different communities of people.”[27] The right to religious freedom specifies that “all women and men are to be immune from coercion on the part of the individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to her/his own beliefs, within due limits.”[28] According to John Paul II’s 1979 encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, no. 17, the respect of this right is indicative sign of humankind’s “authentic progress in any regime, in any society, system or milieu.”[29]

Conclusion

  1. Good governance is a practice much needed in this nation as we continue to ride the waves of political uncertainty in a time when all citizens have be vigilant in ensuring the emergence of healthy bipartisan/two-system government where there is check and balance. More so, we are in need of a government that practices good governance through the proper exercise of authority and governance, the fulfillment of the common good and integral humanism, solidarity amongst all the ethnic communities and justice for all the citizens, especially those excluded and living on the margin of society.


ENDNOTES


[1] John Paul II, “Pacem in terries: a Permanent Commitment,” World Day of Peace Message (January 1, 2003) no. 6.

[2] John Paul II, “Address to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences” (May 2, 2003).

[3] Lisa Sowle Cahill, “Globalization and the Common Good,” 49-50, quoted in Kenneth R. Himes, “Globalization with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” Theological Studies, 69 (2008) 283.

[4] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005), 164:93. [Henceforth cited as CSDC]; also see Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudium et Spes, 26: AAS58 (1966), 1046; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1905-1912; John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 417-421; John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), 272-273; Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, 46: AAS 63 (1971), 433-435;

[5] Ibid. 165. Also see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1912.

[6] Ibid. 169.

[7] Ibid. 170.

[8] Ibid, 167.

[9] Ibid. 171.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 176.

[12] Ibid. 178.

[13] Ibid. 182. Cf. John Paul II, Enclyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42: AAS 80 (1988), 572-573; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, 32: AAS 87 (1995), 436-437; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Tertio Millennio Ineunte, 49-50, AAS 93 (2001), 302-303.

[14] Ibid. 184; Cf. Saint Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis, 3, 21.

[15] Ibid.; Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8: AAS 58 (1966), 845; Also see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2445.

[16] John Paul II, Centissimus Annus (1991) nos. 53-55; also see Kenneth R. Himes, O.F.M., “Globalizatoin with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” 69 (2008) 274.

[17] Paul VI, Populorum Progressio (1967) no. 14; also see Kenneth R. Himes, “Globalizatoin with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” 274-275.

[18] Paul VI, Populorum Progressio (1967) no. 21; also see Kenneth R. Himes, “Globalizatoin with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” 275.

[19][19] Kenneth R. Himes, “Globalizatoin with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” 275.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.276.

[22] John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis no. 38; cf. Kenneth R. Himes, “Globalizatoin with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” 276.

[23] See David J. O’ Brien and Thomas A. Shannon, eds., Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1992) 421.

[24] Ibid. no. 39; Kenneth R. Himes, “Globalizatoin with a Human Face: Catholic Social Teaching and Globalization,” 276.

[25] Leo XIII, Rerum novarum (1891) no. 45.

[26] See CSDC, no. 155: 86.

[27] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dignitatis Humanae, no. 2;also see CSDC, no. 97: 56.

[28] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dignitatis Humanae, no. 2.

[29] See CSDC, no. 156 :87.

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