Filipino Catholics Voice Dissent on Contraception and Abortion

Carolina Austria

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has always been at loggerheads with proponents of population control, and has clashed with advocates of women's rights and choice. But the local debate now has turned to the basis of Catholic teaching itself.

"A pure and simple
faith is as distinct from fanaticism as the
flame from smoke or music from discords:
only the fools confuse them."
(Noli me Tangere, Joze Rizal: 1887,
1912 translation by Charles Derbyshire)

While it is true that the Catholic
Church in the Philippines has always been at loggerheads with proponents
of population control, and in recent history, clashed anew with
women’s rights advocates

who emphasized rights, choice and the quality of life in family planning,
the local debate now seems to have taken a turn to the basis of Catholic
teaching itself
.

In response to the anti-reproductive
health rally announced by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the
Philippines on July 25, 2008, commemorating the 40th anniversary
of the Humane Vitae, women’s rights advocates and NGOs led by the Reproductive Health
Advocacy Network (RHAN) held their own march a day earlier
. While holding a mock burial march, RHAN sounded off the alarm on the
soaring rate of maternal mortality in the country, an issue seemingly
ignored by the Church in its insistence and emphasis on a "procreation"
imperative in marital sex. Ten Filipino women die in childbirth every
day. Over 473,000 pregnancies are terminated annually despite the long-standing
penal prohibition on abortion.

The Reproductive Health Bill
currently pending before the 14th Congress is the third version
of the measure opposed by the Catholic hierarchy since the 12th
Congress. While the bill continues to be
stalled in Congress
,
however, the clamor for reproductive health care has led to the adoption
of locally sponsored provincial and City ordinances introducing reproductive
health services. The first RH ordinance was passed in 2006 in the province
of Aurora and more recently, Lanao Del Sur province
and several cities including Quezon City, Angeles and Antipolo
have followed suit.

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The Catholic hierarchy’s
most recent tirade against supporters of RH was a call to deny the sacrament
of Holy Communion to Catholic law makers. After the statement was issued,
one sponsor, Rep. Mark Llandro Mendoza, backed out of sponsorship. The
lead sponsor of the RH Ordinance in Quezon City, Philip Juico, received
similar threats from a priest

in Cubao, Quezon City. Juico, who is a Catholic, was planning to get
married in the City but has now arranged to be married elsewhere. He
also told the media that flyers were distributed labelling him as "Satan’s
agent" (In Filipino: "Kampon ni Satanas") Father Aris Sison
of the Cubao diocese in Quezon City, who allegedly made the threats,
denied having made them and instead blamed "overzealous" people
who acted in their own capacity in calling the Councilor "Satan’s
agent." He insisted, however, that "Catholic teaching from the Vatican
was not subject to discussion."

Similarly, former Senator Kit
Tatad, who is a known Catholic conservative, challenged the lead author
of the RH Bill, Rep. Janette Garin, in a public forum, even went as
far as to claim that moral law proscribes legislation in this area (apparently
referring to contraceptive practice, choice and availability). Senator
Franklin Drilon on the other hand criticized the CBCP for resorting
to threats saying that while the Church is perfectly free to express
its opinion on contraception, it cannot force others to agree with them.

Meanwhile, more Catholics have
began challenging the hierarchy’s refusal to discuss the issue more
openly, if not, more honestly. Columnist John Nery clarified that the encyclical in
the context of church teaching, is anything but dogma
:

It is also possible to
argue from "theory," that the theology behind "Humanae
Vitae" is not above discussion. Indeed, the encyclical’s language
is lucid, and the Pope’s sympathy for the plight of married couples
transparent.

Citing Prof. Daniel Maguire,
feminist columnist Rina Jimenez-David pointed out how "Catholic teaching
on contraceptives and abortion has been anything but consistent over
the years
." Michael
Tan drew attention to the historical events surrounding
the issuance of the Humanae Viate

and pointed put how Pope Paul VI’s encyclical contradicted majority
opinion within Vatican II, initiated by Pope John XXIII.  His Pontifical
Commission on Population, Family and Birth which issued a report open
to the use of contraceptives by married couples:

In the end, the commission
issued a majority report, supported by 30 of the 35 lay members, 15
of the 19 theologians and nine of the 12 bishops. The commission observed
that "the regulation of conception appears necessary for many couples
who wish to achieve a responsible, open and reasonable parenthood in
today’s circumstances.

Prof. Raul Pangalanan meanwhile
reminded the Catholic hierarchy about the "separation of church
and state
," criticizing
its heavy-handed attack on the sponsors of the bill, pointing out that
the draft law addresses the health needs and choices of both Catholic
and Non-Catholics. He also calls the allegation by the Catholic hierarchy
that the bill legalizes abortion an outright lie.

Acknowledging the
diversity of Catholic opinion

on the matter in its editorial, the Inquirer chided Archbishop Jesus
Dosado of Ozamiz for conflating contraceptives with abortion. Earlier,
a Filipino Catholic
priest doing missionary work in Hong Kong aired his own disagreement
with the Catholic hierarchy
,
saying that the disproportionate emphasis on contraceptives was working
against the interests of the Filipino people, specifically the poor.
He accused the CBCP of practising "selective morality," in the face
of more urgent problems in the country such as extra-judicial killings,
poverty and the plight of those who lost loved ones in the MV Sulpicio
lines tragedy.

Aptly so, Manuel L. Quezon
III’s column comes as a reminder that resistance to the
church’s authority

(and abuse) is no less than integral to the formation of national identity:

"Our founding fathers, from
different walks of life, were united by their opposition to "frailocracy,"
which was why, as our first president was sworn into office, the altar
at Malolos town was hidden behind a curtain."

That the Catholic hierarchy
in the Philippines is now being challenged to be more transparent about
the basis of its positions in Catholic teaching, theology and Church
history, lends an ironic twist to the entire issue. In seeming inability
to even articulate the theory and theology behind its own encyclicals,
it has chosen to invoke them as rigid law which it wishes to impose
on the secular Philippine state and as a consequence, on every Filipino.

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