I appreciate Dr Paulus Ripa’s comment in PNG Attitude and as a product, even something of a victim, of a western secular ‘liberal’, democracy with a fairly strict division between church and state, I agree with him entirely.
I say a victim because, for most of my childhood, the State did not assist my education because I was in a Catholic school and the burden was carried by my parents with considerable stress on our family income.
The Papua New Guinea Catholic Bishops Conference has consistently maintained that the State should adequately budget for and fund the areas for which it is responsible: roads, communication, civil infrastructure, education, health, security, law and order.
If the State adequately supported the economic infrastructure, and generated employment, our people could earn their own money and freely contribute for religious and other purposes.
We know from history that the Church is at its strongest when it is entirely supported by the generosity of its members. Whenever it is dependent on the State it is at risk.
However we have to admit that this is not the popular view of our constituents. If they could articulate their position in these terms they might say that the Western liberal approach is dualist whereas the Melanesian Way avoids unnecessary and non-traditional distinctions between the secular and the religious.
Thus, in the view of the majority of Papua New Guineans, politicians and public servants can and should be explicitly motivated by their faith and the churches should receive public funding. Our people tell us “the money is ours”.
We would also not argue for a strict division as in the USA or Australia because, as Dr Ripa, says, we must always be free to influence the public sphere.
At the same time we have to be accountable to the wider community, not only financially but morally also.
The argument of our fund raising committee has been that the State has failed to contribute adequately to the services that Dr Ripa has mentioned: health and education, and related social services.
For 80 years the Catholic Church has been providing these services. They see the Kina for Kina contribution of the State as “catching up “with what is owed.
I admit that I for one was surprised and possibly a little embarrassed by the size of the prime minister’s pledge.
This may have been influenced by the fact that the project is not simply a cathedral but also a home for Triniti FM radio station, the beginnings of a conference centre and a venue for large scale public events of a religious or civic nature, all integrated with long-term plans for the development of Rebiamul Field, including parking.
Some of the funding will certainly go to aspects that are normally taken care of by public authorities such as road, power, and communication connections, water supply and drainage.
Sometimes I hear politicians talk about “tithing”, i.e., giving 10% of public funds to the churches. I am one who is opposed to this. For one, I think tithing is an Old Testament idea and the New Testament idea is to give according to ability.
Also if the churches have 40% of education and health care surely they should be getting 40% of the funding for these sectors! This is not the case.
If the State merely followed its statutory obligations to those churches providing services, and withdrew some of the onerous taxation burden, we would be able to take care of our spiritual and pastoral services quite adequately.
Currently much of our limited income and resources goes towards providing services which are the obligation of the State.
The danger of being bought is very real. We will have to see whether this happens in Mt Hagen! On the other hand, some people maintain that the only way to bring about change is to be part of the process and not standing outside it with a holier than thou attitude.
Generally people seem to appreciate the stand of the Catholic Church on social issues especially corruption and the care for rural areas. I doubt if this will stop. If it does, then please let us know.
We are currently attempting to respond to another area where the State is failing badly: the care for vulnerable children especially orphans.
This requires both a sharp public criticism of this failure and a willingness to work along with those who are in a position to do something.
P.S. Thanks for the pledge!