By Raïssa Robles
Four months ago, a Catholic Church official explained to me why the Church was fighting tooth and nail against the passage of a Reproductive Health Law even though it would force no one to use contraceptives and would simply inform and give couples free choice of family planning methods.
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines secretary general Joselito Asis said:
“If the RH bill becomes law, the D.E.A.T.H.S bills will follow next – Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health, Homosexuality or gay marriages, and Sex education.”
The prelate pointed out that in fact a divorce bill is now pending in the House. But he did not explain what “Total Reproductive Health” meant; or why enactment of the “D.E.A.T.H.S. bills would follow next; or why sex education was bad.
If enacted, the Reproductive Health Law – that is now pending in Congress – aims to provide free information and health care services to Filipinos to enable them to plan their families to the size they want. There is no compulsion for anyone to use artificial birth control; no limits to the number of children a family can have; and no mandated population targets.
The law will, for the first time, enable the state to provide free health care services and information on how to plan according to the number of children couples want. Unlike in China, the law does not dictate the size of the family and does not set a population target. It also reiterates the ban against abortion.
A senior government official separately told me that no less than the Vatican has hit the panic button on the RH issue. The Philippines is the only predominantly Catholic country today without a divorce law. It is one of the few such countries without any law institutionalizing free distribution of condoms and other contraceptives by the state to those who want them.
Personally, I found it curious that at the height of the RH congressional debate, Vatican chose to shower the Philippines with twin honors. First in October, Vatican elevated to sainthood another Filipino martyr, Pedro Calungsod. And second only last month, Vatican elevated 55-year-old Filipino prelate Luis Antonio Tagle into a Cardinal – as the second youngest member of the College of Cardinals, the pope-electing body.
If these twin blessings had taken place during the previous Arroyo government, the official delegation for both would have been led by no less than the Philippine President. But this time, President Benigno Aquino III – son of the devout Catholic President Corazon Aquino – was notably absent in both official ceremonies.
Instead, it was led by Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Aquino was on official business elsewhere but you and I know that a head of state can decide which appointments to go to.
Perhaps President Aquino did not want to be placed in an awkward spot of turning down a request from the Pope himself for the Aquino government to drop support of the RH Law.
Is the Philippine Catholic Church in crisis?
Tomorrow, what was previously unthinkable to the Catholic Church may take place in the House of Representatives. Tomorrow, lawmakers may cast the first-ever vote on an RH Law.
If the RH Law is approved, it will simply reflect the sentiment of most Filipinos. As early as two years ago, both Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations found in separate polls that nearly seven out of 10 Filipinos favored an RH Law. The SWS survey sampled both Catholics and non-Catholics and found that 71% of Catholics wanted an RH Law passed, compared to 68% of the non-Catholics polled in 2010.
To the Catholic Church, these findings were troubling but apparently not surprising. Church membership and church worship have been falling. From the high 90% of decades ago, Catholics nowadays comprise 82% of Philippine population.
SWS also made a survey of mass attendance in particular in 2001 and found that on the average only one out of two Catholics (54%) go to church at least once a week. Slightly more than half of the church goers are female.
Also, a large portion of the church attendees are mostly from the upper classes (A,B,C – 70%) than the lower classes D and E.
Now let’s put these findings side by side with findings on condom and contraceptive use. Let’s assume that the 2001 SWS findings on church attendance still hold true. It’s interesting to note that according to a 2006 Family Planning survey conducted by the National Statistics Office, use of family planning methods were highest among women of higher education. So it would seem that those who sinned more by using condoms and contraceptives attended the Holy Mass more.
Other even more disturbing facts are now staring us in the face amid debates on the RH Law
The number of “live births” registered with the NSO numbered 1,784,316 in 2008 and 1,745,585 in 2009. We can assume that around that period, roughly 1.7 million babies were born.
Between January 2009 to March 2010 or a period of 14 months, the NSO received birth certificates showing that 40.7% of the babies born then – or a total of 711,079 – were illegitimate in the eyes of the law. In Church parlance, this means they were born in sin.
The live births recorded with the state registry, however, show only half of the story.
The Philippines does not keep official records of abortions. Nor does it include the following question in the state census: Have you ever had an abortion? If yes, was this induced or natural?
Carlos Conde, a former New York Times contributor who is now with
Amnesty International Human Rights Watch noted in a NYT piece in 2005 that:
“Official estimates put annual abortions at 400,000 to 500,000, and rising. The World Health Organization estimate puts the figure at nearly 800,000, one of the highest rates of unsafe abortions in Asia.”
Now consider that around 1.7 million babies are born yearly. If 400,000 additional babies are really aborted each year, that would make abortion the method of choice for terminating unwanted pregnancies.
The Church condemns even the condom as a family planning method
As a Catholic, I have tried to understand the Church position on the RH Law
But I really cannot understand why the Church bans condoms when it is quite clear that neither the sperm nor the ovum meet when it is used.
According to former Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Angel Lagdameo it’s a sin to use condoms:
What does Humanae Vitae tell us? Does it prohibit “family planning?” It does not prohibit family planning. But family planning should be done in a right way and not in a sinful way. Briefly stated, Humanae Vitae condemns direct and deliberate prevention of conception. And so, direct abortion must be rejected as a means of regulating birth or even therapeutic means. Likewise direct sterilization of male (vasectomy) and of female (ligation) must be rejected as well as all acts that attempt to impede to impede procreation—i.e. such acts before, during and after the couple’s sexual union: this includes the taking of contraceptive bills, I.U.Ds and condoms. It is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come out of it (c.f. HV 11). It is a serious error to think that a whole married life of normal sexual relations could justify a contraceptive act of sexual union.
Therefore, advocating condom use through an RH Law , along with contraceptives, would also be a sin.
Today, Lagdameo’s successor in the CBCP, Archbishop Jose Palma, wrote an open letter to congressmen. Monsignor Palma did not order the lawmakers to block the RH Law. Instead, he quoted the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
Because of the enormous challenges facing you and the rest of the nation on the RH bill, I wish to commend to you these words of the Holy Father as my own, especially when he speaks of how parliamentary majorities should act on certain important questions.
“Let us suppose,” the Pope writes, “that an overwhelming majority oppresses a religious or ethnic minority by means of harsh legislation—-would we then speak of ‘justice’ or even ‘the rule of law’? The majority principle always leaves open the question of the ethical foundation of law: Are there some things that can never be legalized, some things that always remain wrong? On the other hand, are there some things that absolutely always remain legally binding, things that precede every majority decision, things that majority decisions must respect?”
These involve such things as the right to life, the right of married couples to found a family according to their religious beliefs and moral convictions, and to be the primary educators of their children. Here as elsewhere, the truth must be the basis of the law, rather than the result of legislation.
Amidst the many voices trying to influence the outcome of your deliberations, I call upon you in the words our Lord first said to Abraham, “Do not be afraid!” Listen to what God is saying; “obey God rather than men” (cf Ac 5:29). For “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps 127), and the Lord himself has assured us, “I am with you always, until the end of the age”(Mt 28:20).
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
St. Thomas More, pray for us!
San Pedro Calungsod, pray for us!
Monsignor Palma makes several assumptions here:
First, “an overwhelming majority” is oppressing a “religious minority”. The Catholic Church with all its members is hardly the minority. And most Catholics want an RH Law.
Second, the RH Law is “harsh” and will “always remain wrong”. From the readings I’ve done to understand the controversy, I gathered that papal infallibility (or the notion that the Pope is always right in matters of doctrine) is not in question here.
Third, he asserts “the right to life, the right of married couples to found a family according to their religious beliefs and moral convictions, and to be the primary educators of their children.”
But what if married couples would like to use condoms and they do not think it’s sinful?
There have been several instances in our history when the wishes of the country’s established Catholic Church hierarchy were openly defied: during the Filipinos’ revolt against Spain; in 1938 when a bill to require religious instruction in public schools was vetoed by President Manuel Quezon; and in 1956 when the Church tried to get Congress to pass a law banning Rizal’s novels from being taught in schools.
To read the speech of President Quezon banning religious instruction, click on this link.
To read my story on the Church attempt to ban Rizal’s novels, click on this link.
Today we are witnessing another watershed moment – one that the Church warns would cast the Philippines into perdition – but which most Catholics believe could help lift the poorest of the poor out of poverty.
Last week I received the following text message:
“Anti RH bishops don’t speak 4 d entire clergy. We the silent Catholic clergy support RH. Poverty dehumanizes; 2 address it brings us closer 2 God. Pass RH now!”
Jesuit priest-lawyer Joaquin Bernas said he received the same text message. Surprisingly, Father Bernas made this conclusion:
Yet the message expresses a sentiment close to the heart of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle himself who, in an interview by the Tablet, said,
“The Church cannot and must not pretend to have easy answers to the dilemmas facing men and women today. Instead, it must be an attentive and listening Church—only that way will people believe that God listens to them too.”
He (Tagle) went on:
“The Church must be a humble Church, modeling herself more on Jesus and being less preoccupied by her power, prestige and position in society.” Still more: “I realize that the sufferings of people and the difficult questions they ask are an invitation to be, first, in solidarity with them, not to pretend we have all the solutions. [People] can resonate and see the concrete face of God in a Church that can be silent with them, can be as confused as they are, also telling them we share your situation of searching.”
Fr. Bernas and Cardinal Tagle must know things about each other and about the Church that we don’t. I’ve just learned that Fr. Bernas and the Cardinal share one thing – both are
JESUITS from Ateneo de Manila University.
[CORRECTION as of 10:24 PM, December 11, 2012: Cardinal Tagle is not a Jesuit, although he "took his Philosophy and Theology at the Ateneo de Manila University's San Jose Major Seminary," according to the CBCP news website. The Ateneo website adds this interesting tidbit about Tagle:
"After graduating from AB Philosophy in 1973, he took up masteral studies in theology at the Loyola School of Theology and San Jose Seminary."
The two priests' paths must have crossed around that time since Fr. Bernas was appointed Provincial Superior of Philippine Jesuits from 1976 to 1982.
It was only from 1985 to 1992 that Cardinal Tagle was sent overseas for further studies to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., where he earned his doctorate in sacred theology.
According to the Ateneo website,
"Tagle served as member of the International Theological Commission while it was still chaired by Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Tagle served as a theologian of at least two ordinary synods at the Vatican."
This means the present Pope personally knows Cardinal Tagle.]
ADDED NOTE: Dec 12, 2012, 1:54 PM. – Commenter @Simon Olivares pointed out it would have been impossible for Tagle to finish university by 1973 (at the age of 16). There is no definitive biography with proper dates of the Cardinal.
Today, both Cardinal Tagle and Father Bernas express different attitudes to an RH Law. Fr. Bernas is open to seeing an amended RH Law passed. He even praised parts of the newly-amended House bill saying:
There are many valuable points in the bill that can serve the welfare of the nation and especially of poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service. There are specific provisions that give substance to these good points. They should be saved.
You can read Fr. Bernas’ entire column here.
But Cardinal Tagle would like to trash the entire law because he said it encourages a “contraceptive mentality.”
The fact that there is such profound disagreement between two prominent clergymen leaves wiggle room for lay members of the Church to agree or disagree with the RH Law, based on what their conscience tells them.