It is really a matter of conscience. The bribe giver believes that conscience has a price and the bribe taker agrees that conscience can be sold. This makes me recall two interesting bribery scenes dished out by Hollywood in the movies. Incidentally these two scenes come from two of my favourite movies that got the Oscar best picture award (and best actor awards for the leading cast).
The first one is a scene from Robert Bolt's "Man for all Seasons" when Thomas More was at the height of his powers and favour from King Henry VIII. While coming out of Cardinal Wolsey's Hampton Court Palace, he received a silver cup from Averil Machin, woman with a request from the court of requests of which More was the presiding judge. More also received gifts of candied apples to which More replied "ah to sweeten my judgement. I'll give your son the judgement as if he were my own, a fair one." He did not accept the apples but accepted Machin's cup.
In a later scene, More had fallen from favour as he would not accept Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his remarriage to Anne Boleyn. The cup issue was made as one of the possible basis for an indictment. Thomas Cromwell was now Chancellor of England and while quizzing More tried to prove that More accepted bribes. The Earl of Norfolk said "What? Goddammit, he was the only judge since Cato who didn't accept bribes! When was there last a Chancellor whose possessions after three years in office totaled one hundred pounds and a gold chain?" (the Chain of office was eventually returned to Henry when More resigned). Norfolk continued saying "As soon as Thomas knew it was a bribe, he threw it to the nearest gutter!"
In the scence after the Hampton Court scene, More travelled by boat to his Chelsea home and threw the cup into the Thames. The boatman fished it out saying that "It worth money sire!"
More kept the cup and gave it to an ambitious student, Richard Rich who wanted to have a place in court.
In "Schindler's List" Oscar Schindler bribed the Commandant of Auschwitz with diamonds to ransom his Jewish workers. In another scene Schindler was bribing Goeth and the bribe was called a "gratuity".
These scenes are worth remembering since Pampanga Governor Reverend Ed Panlilio exposed to the media Malacanang's attempt to bribe him and othe government officials with 0.5 Million pesos in cash.
Obviously Panlilio accepted the money after all how could he have had the money photographed by the press in a press con? The op ed columnists have had a field day discussing whether it was right for Panlilio to accept the cash. I find this a kind of double standard since Panlilio is in Holy Orders and they discuss his moral standing while we have a zillion politicians, lay people all who have accepted bribes and yet they don't even discuss their moral standing. Why pick on a priest?
Nonetheless Panlilio can take comfort in watching a DVD copy of "Man for all Seasons" and find out for himself to what gutter should the bribe be thrown into. A politician allied with Gloriana says that the money be returned to where it came from (is Gloriana a suitable gutter?). Or as Panlilio says that the money be spent for the poor. (Is the poor a suitable gutter?). Panlilio may have followed More's example and thrown the money in the Rio Grande de Pampanga, but unlike Machin's cup it would float and drift down the rolling river! Panlilio could have done the dramatic thing for the press , set the money on fire and tell the whole planet (and Gloriana!) the truth of the Gospel that man does not live by bread alone.
Of course Panlilio assumed the money came from the public purse. But if we are to be morally theological about it, he has to prove that it really came from the public purse or else we can only assume it is really Gloriana's gratuity.
Gratuity is defined in Dictionary.com as
1. a gift of money, over and above payment due for service, as to a waiter or bellhop; tip.
2. something given without claim or demand.
If that's the case then Panlilio should take heed last Sunday's Gospel message and be grateful to cabalen Gloriana!
Bribe on the other hand is defined as
1. money or any other valuable consideration given or promised with a view to corrupting the behavior of a person, esp. in that person's performance as an athlete, public official, etc.
2. anything given or serving to persuade or induce.
So it is a matter of intention as what the Catholic catechism teaches about the morality of our acts.
Panlilio will have to discern the intention of which he has already done. Unfortunately he has to walk a thinner moral tightrope as immediately knew it was a bribe and accepted the cash. More on the other hand knew immediately that the candied apples were a bribe and refused them but intially thought that the silver cup was a gratuity and accepted it until he realized it was a bribe when he read the inscription on the cup's base (after which he dunked the damned cup into the Thames).
Many of our actions could not be discerned in moral black and white. Most are clothed in shades of gray. That's why we have to inform our consciences. After all the conscience is our castle. Even God can't enter it without our consent.
John Paul II was right when he named Thomas More not only as patron saint of lawyers and statesmen but of everyone in public office. Panlilio can ask for More's intercession as I have at times during trying times.