Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Statement at the Senate Hearing Regarding the Problem at the CCP Art Exhibition

Honorable Members of the Senate:

We thank you most deeply for inviting us to help you craft better legislation on the matter concerning the Art Exhibition at the Cultural Center in the Philippines. The particular exhibit in question has been the subject of widespread condemnation especially by our lay Catholic faithful and by other Christian denominations.
1. Our position is simple and straightforward. This position has to do with the moral limits of the freedom of expression. What the legal limits may be we do not presume to suggest, although we also believe that what is legal should first of all be moral.
2. We hold that no human freedom is absolute. Human freedom is a gift of God and has corresponding responsibilities to (a) the moral law of God; (b) to the rights of others; and (c) to the common good. These responsibilities are the triple test for the just exercise of human freedom.
3. When the exercise of human freedom defies the moral law of God or violates the rights of others or militates against the common good of all, the act would be objectively unjust or immoral.
4. In the particular case of some of the art installations exhibited recently at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the exercise of human freedom for the sake of art is subject to moral criteria. To be just or moral, the artistic expression of human freedom must respect the religious symbols of various religions, especially those that are most sacred to them, whether the religion be Islam or Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism. Disrespecting them by artistic portrayal would be a form of objective desecration of religious symbols. This is especially true for visual art which is a powerful instrument of public discourse. Ars pro gratia artis (art for the sake of art), therefore, has moral limitations.
5. In the same way that we condemn sinful acts but do not condemn the sinner, we condemn such artistic portrayal as objectively immoral; but we do not necessarily condemn the person of the artist who may not be aware of the objective immorality of his action.
We respectfully suggest that the crafting of a law that covers freedom of expression through art include the corresponding responsibilities for the exercise of human freedom.
Once again we express our profound thanks to you for inviting us to this forum and for the privilege of being of some help to your work of legislating for the common good.
For and in behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
Archbishop of Cebu and
Vice-President, CBCP
16 August 2011

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