Roman Catholic Bishops demand secular state
According to CathNews India, ‘Church commissions and human rights NGOs in Pakistan have called on the government to allow “freedom of conscience and expression” by curbing increasing extremism in the country’.
It is written in Section 295(C) of the Pakistan Penal Code that the act of insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is punishable by life imprisonment or death. Leaders from the country's ‘religious right’ are determined to retain this penalty, and Allah help any politician who advocates abolition or amendment to the Blasphemy Law: they are likely to suffer the same fate as Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.
Yet the intervention if the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference is interesting, for they hardly practise what they preach. They say: “We support the political process without any armed or religious interference. It is imperative to separate religion from state matters.”
It is one thing to urge repeal of a particularly barbaric blasphemy law, as Pope Benedict XVI has done: it is undoubtedly used to terrorise and persecute minorities, and is contrary to fundamental precepts of human rights. But it is quite another to demand the separation of the temporal from the spiritual.
The bishops decry that ‘religious parties are using street power for political gains’, and yet we have all across Europe political parties with an undoubted and undeniable Roman Catholic provenance (‘Christian Democracy’), which are not infrequently influenced by bishops for political gains (‘Social Doctrine’).
The demand of Pakistan's Roman Catholic bishops raises some perfectly reasonable questions, and His Grace is delighted to seek the wisdom and learning of his communicants on the matter.
Is the Pope supreme in ecclesiastical matters only, or does he exert jurisdiction in civil matters?
In church-state relations, which authority is greater? Since man cannot serve two masters, and since both the civil power and the spiritual power exert authority over the same subjects, the two powers cannot be equal. And since it may be argued that the end of man is salvation, and it is observed that the state has no means to order that end, must not the temporal give way to the spiritual?
Many Muslims, of course, will follow this precise reasoning, demanding all the necessary precepts of sharia in the state in order that they, too, may attain their salvation. When there is conflict between the state and sharia, it is quranic virtue and hadithic truth which must prevail.
The King is one of the flock as a member of the Church, and so he must submit to the shepherd, the successor to St Peter.
Salman Taseer is one of the Ummah, the worldwide Islamic brotherhood,and so he must submit to.... ah, there we have a problem. For there is no evident successor to Mohammed (pbuh).
But it is interesting that Roman Catholic bishops should be advocating the secular state, thereby depriving Muslims of their undoubtedly perceived and devoutly believed temporal path to salvation.
In light of the fact that some British Roman Catholics agitate for the repeal (or amendment) of the Act of Settlement, principally because it enshrines the Anglican Settlement in the State Constitution and binds together the Church of England and the Monarchy to the exclusion of their co-religionists, when a Catholic Bishops’ Conference says: ‘It is imperative to separate religion from state matters’, does that only apply to those states in which Roman Catholicism does not constitute the state orthodoxy? Or does the demand apply only to states which are Anglican or Muslim? Or is this a seismic shift in the position of the Roman Catholic Church on the relationship between temporal and spiritual authorities?
Or has this Bishops’ Conference been woefully misrepresented by CathNews India?