By Wallice J. de la Vega
Catholic News Service
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) — Puerto Rico’s Catholic bishops have called on their fellow Catholics, "our brothers and sisters" from other creeds and "all people of goodwill" to "assume discernment" in facing the Nov. 8 general election.
The bishops made the comments Oct. 6 in a 10-page statement about the election in light of the island’s current economic conditions and its "new sociopolitical reality."
The document, titled "Puerto Rico: A Time for Faith and Hope," was issued by the Puerto Rican bishops’ conference and uses church teachings as a voter’s guide. It was signed by the leaders of the island’s archdiocese and five dioceses.
"The whole structure of the political and economic model in which our development has been based for the past decades has lost it legitimacy and efficiency," wrote the bishops.
They said "the signs of the times" show Puerto Rico is in "one of the most critical moments in its history," including "the authority of the fiscal control board named by the president of the United States," which they called "a reflection of our crude colonial status" that "demands an unequivocal rejection."
"Overcoming it is an unavoidable task," they said.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board was authorized by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in June. The board started operating Sept. 30. In practical terms, it has full control of the local government.
"The time has come to say ‘no’ to the historical colonialism that has accompanied itself with unjust laws, like those of coastal trade, and partisan demagoguery, falsehood, and opportunism by many leaders and investors," the bishops’ message said. "With Pope Francis, we say ‘no’ to these old forms of colonialism ‘that reduce poor countries to mere providers of raw materials and cheap labor, begets violence, misery, forced migration and all ills at hand."
Quoting from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the Puerto Rican bishops mentioned some of the "essential qualities" for a truly democratic social order, like the right to vote, people’s control of rulers, promotion of the person, creation of spaces for participation, a sense of shared responsibility, rulers’ accountability for their acts … and respect for electoral terms.
They said the compendium, which provides a concise and complete overview of the church’s social teaching, "calls our attention to the fact that the democratic government model does not limit itself to a formalist structure of the judicial relationships between the state and its citizens, nor to a mere electoral participation. It responds to a series of values in which social life is based, and ensures full development of the people in their dignity and rights."
The bishops called "ever more urgent" people’s active participation to contribute to the community’s cultural, economic, political and social life — a kind of action-interaction toward a "moral conversion" of individuals and institutions, they said.
"Let’s remember that being a citizen is a virtue and participation in the political life is a moral obligation," they wrote. "But becoming a people is so even more, and it is a constant process in which each new generation becomes involved."
"A Time for Faith" criticized local political parties’ ideological approaches to government, endemic corruption, abuses of power, political impunity, basic liberty restrictions, national identity crisis, environmental pollution and other local problems.
The bishops used the issue of Puerto Rico’s current harsh political divisiveness as an opportunity for proposing once again the "re-founding of the motherland." That effort, they said, could be started from "our Christian identity, culture and roots; from the Taino, African and Spanish heritage and our Latino tradition. But also highlighting the good of our relationship with the United States, like religious freedom, democracy, individual liberties, and its educational tradition."
"For that (re-founding), it is necessary a personal and pastoral conversion process that leads us to, and is based on, a personal encounter with Jesus Christ in which all faithful, together with their pastors, are inserted…."
"A Time for Faith" was largely ignored by the Puerto Rican press. One political analysis radio program — aired on the local Catholic radio and television network — reviewed the bishops’ message.
Nestor Duprey Salgado, political historian and analyst, said the document offered "a necessary reflection for Puerto Rican Catholics in regard to their political actions."
"Speaking as a Catholic, I think this should be required reading for us laypeople who participate in the political process," he added.
Carlos Gallisa Bisbal, a former member of the local House of Representatives and longtime supporter of Puerto Rico’s independence, agreed. "I don’t remember any statement from the Puerto Rican bishops with so much force, so much precision, and so clearly putting their position regarding the country’s situation," he said.
Both analysts said it was the first time the Puerto Rican bishops’ conference, as a church body, rejected the island’s colonial status.
"That is an enormous step forward on the church’s direction; it confronts a reality and points at it with great precision and very clearly," said Gallisa Bisbal. "The bishops’ comments gather the country’s main problems within Puerto Rican politics. I think other religious segments should join this crusade the Puerto Rican bishops begin today."
"It is important to clarify," said Duprey Salgado, "the Catholic Church does not tell its faithful how to vote. It only points out lines of action and teaches its faithful the church’s doctrine on particular issues."
"A Time for Faith" was signed by Archbishop Roberto O. Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, president of the Episcopal Conference of Puerto Rico; Bishops Alvaro Corrada del Rio of Mayaguez, Eusebio Ramos Morales of Fajardo-Humacao, Ruben A. Gonzalez Medina of Ponce and Daniel Fernandez Torres of Arecibo; and Father Antonio Cartagena Veguilla, administrator of the Caguas Diocese.