This thing called conscience

This thing called conscience

HE came out into the open because, in his words, “I want to clear my conscience…out of fear of God.”

The just-adjourned senate investigation of a retired police officer who, among others, admitted to have been a member of a death squad and to being a killer of hundreds, some on orders of then mayor and now president of the republic, was like a mirror. It reflects to us the wounded and divided conscience of the country. Partisan consciences of allies or the opposition clearly guided the way many questions were asked rather than the avowed purpose of ferreting out the truth. Critics of the administration pointed to how the retired policeman had acted against self-interest in confessing to his crimes, with apparently nothing to gain but a severe prison sentence or worse. Allies of the administration, on the other hand, quickly dismissed the testimony as a web of lies from a perjured, polluted source.

Where truth doth lie, we need to ask. Even if the administration’s critics have a point in citing the witness’ acting against self-interest in offering a tell-all confession, it was obvious he had received large amounts of cash for doing his role in the mass murders and cash not being behind his actions now seems dubious, to say the least. But, on the part of the administration and its allies, to say everything he said was a wholesale fabrication just because he has loopholes in his testimony, aside from having perjured himself in an earlier senate hearing out of obedience to a superior’s order and of fear for his family’s safety, should make us pause for caution. Why? Because there are limits to the legal means of arriving at the common good.

In addition, such dismissal may cost the country the truth or parts of it. For instance, does anyone with a fair and impartial mind simply dismiss as lies first-hand accounts of being ordered to “get rid” of certain perceived criminals or enemies? Should not this admission merit an independent, fair but determined investigation? And might not an international group be more competent to conduct it?

But let’s get back to conscience. Some non-Catholic senators reacted to the witness’ claim of “spiritual renewal” with the element of confessing to a Catholic priest. One indirectly criticized it by saying confession is to God alone. Another even chided the witness’ “spiritual renewal” for being “incomplete” because the police officer did not follow the Lord’s words, “Sin no more” by lying in his first testimony. Both senators pounced on the helpless retired cop because if, in their view, he had a real “encounter” with the Lord, he would not have sinned by lying under oath.

It turns out they did not read their Bibles well. Even Peter and the apostles who “encountered” Jesus much more deeply and intimately than anyone were also the first to fear for their safety and, per Gospel accounts, “lied” (Peter did it three times) though not under oath, that they did not know Jesus. All they need to do is consult Mt 26:69-79; Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-62; Jn 18:15-27 to find out if I am not making this up. If St Peter were to testify for Jesus Christ at the Philippine senate today, he would be dismissed as a “polluted”, “perjured” “source”.

To me everything boils down to the need for everyone, Filipinos and foreigners, political foes or allies, to have a well-formed conscience as his center of conduct. This is a long-standing teaching and exhortation of the Church. The phenomenon of the “callous conscience” behind the mass murders called EJKs and other forms of twisting and skirting the moral law makes the formation of consciences especially of those in power a “must”, an urgency.

Admittedly this is part and parcel of the Church’s exercise of her teaching and prophetic ministry.
But do we seriously look into whether or not we are doing it right (and effectively) as we must? Is the present crop of Filipino politicians and citizenry a product of a well-balanced formation of conscience?

Let us wonder, lest we wander.