THE recent announcement that prime minister Peter O’Neill donated several millions of kina - public money - towards the construction of the Catholic Cathedral in Mt Hagen leaves me with many misgivings.
Whilst it may be a relief for thousands of Catholics in Western Highlands and Jiwaka provinces, it is wrong for the Church to accept donations from the government.
Firstly, over the last couple of hundred years the development of liberal democracy has seen the definition of roles of church and state to be separate.
History has shown that when church and state are intertwined there develops intolerance, ecclesiastical corruption and oppression of minorities who do not profess the faith of the ruling religion. This is making a comeback in fundamentalist Muslim states now.
Second, government funds are clearly for designated secular purposes, and building churches or making donations to church groups are not right and proper. It can be rightfully construed as misuse of public funds.
Third, and most importantly, the church has always been an independent conscience and bulwark for what is right and what is wrong.
In many developing nations, e.g. in South America, the church has consistently been the only opposition to dictatorial and oppressive regimes which have often been backed by powerful nations of the West as well as the communist bloc.
In PNG, where there is no effective political opposition, the churches should be more vocal in issues where a powerful government is railroading policies and actions through parliament which are ill thought through and of great detriment to the nation.
In such circumstances the churches are compromised by government funding for projects which really should be funded by the churchgoers themselves. The bishops have been bought and they dare not utter anything against the government of the day.
I confine my arguments to the Catholic Church because I am a Catholic and I will, of course, personally contribute to the Mt Hagen Cathedral construction. I imagine that other churches, particularly those which are not mainstream, may have fewer scruples about taking a stand against the presence of what one writer called “structural evil” (Ronald Sider in Rich Christians in a Hungry World).
What can be funded by government are social services provided by the churches such as schools, clinics and hospitals, services for the disabled and the poor and so on. But such contributions must follow rules of proper accountability.
The Catholic Church has a distinguished role in providing these services and, due to its outstanding performance in accountability, has been the major recipient of funding from sources such as the Incentive Fund.
Funding support for these activities in the public good needs to be continued and expanded as, in many instances such as health services, the church is the only reliable provider in rural and remote areas.
However the church should not lose sight of its primary role of evangelisation, part of which includes the role of defender of the poor, the dispossessed and the oppressed.
Dr Paulus Ripa is a paediatrician and teaches at the University of PNG School of Medicine