Roundup: Are Some Countries Starting to Ignore the Church?

Robin Marty

Is the Catholic Church beginning to lose a little of its rigid grasp that it has held over numerous countries when it comes to family planning, birth control, reproductive justice, and even infertility treatments?

Is the Catholic Church beginning to lose a little of its rigid grasp that it has held over numerous countries when it comes to family planning, birth control, reproductive justice, and even infertility treatments?  For some countries, the answer could be yes.

In the Philippines, the Catholic Church has made the family planning initiatives of the government a battle of epic proportions.  But as the New York Times points out, it may be a battle the Church is losing, as its influence over the country has started to wane.

[A] battle in Manila over a reproductive health bill may produce not just a push for more easily available contraception — which would reduce poverty and often-fatal illegal abortions — but a clash between local bishops and an increasingly secular society.

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Opponents of the bill have also argued that claims of runaway population growth in the Philippines have been greatly exaggerated. They have a point — one that indicates the extent to which people are already ignoring the church. The Philippines’ fertility decline started late by Asian standards, but the birthrate has halved since 1980. Some of this is due to the huge numbers of women who have gone to work overseas. But it is quite likely that rapid decline will continue regardless of legislation or the church. As countries as varied as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia have shown, it does not take much to change habits if contraception is easily and cheaply available.

Some argue that it may not matter much whether this bill passes or not because the broader influence of the church hierarchy is fading under the impact of urbanization, migrant workers and a popular culture very open about sex. There is also the example of an elite that often does not practice what it preaches in Congress.

The Philippines is a very religious country but also one where tolerance of priests having relations with women appears high and where marriage breakups and de facto unions are a common and accepted substitute for divorce. Despite five centuries of Catholicism, indigenous practices in which divorce was common and could be initiated by either women or men lurk not far beneath the surface.

Mainstream Catholic influence is also being eroded by the enduring presence of two nationalist Christian denominations, the Iglesia ni Cristo, and the Aglipayans, by the growth of Protestant sects and by the impact of high-profile evangelical and charismatic preachers reaching mass audiences through radio and television.

In short, the Catholic Church may win this round in its battle against contraceptives. But it has probably already lost the war.

The decline of the influence of the Church may also be seen in Costa Rica, where the country is considering loosening its ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF).  From the Tico Times:

Taking the lead from the Catholic Church, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the process violates life and human dignity, as many of the embryos used in the procedure are lost. In drafting their statement, judges adopted the rhetoric of the Catholic Church, saying children should be conceived naturally and that any manipulation of the process is morally unacceptable. 

In 2008, after all options had been exhausted within the Costa Rican judicial system, ten infertile couples brought the case before the Washington D. C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

“Nothing is worse than the inability to have a family,” said Andrea Bianchi, who was one of the mothers to testify. “People have sunk into depression, couples have divorced over this. This is the most infuriating thing because you have to wait for someone else to decide (your future).”

In August, the Commission – an entity of the Organization of American States – told Costa Rica that it must take steps to lift the ban, as its signature is on many of the international accords that back the practice.

Sadly, to qualm the complaints from the church, Costa Rica is mandating there be no creation or storage of “extra embryos,” condemning any woman who’s procedure fails the first time to undergo the extensive invasive fertility treatments necessary to create more.

So how can the Church work to woo back people and regain its total influence?  Well, if you believe this article from Business World Online in Manila, with “witty” comebacks to those who question the Church’s stances on sex.

People have the right to their own bodies. True. You also have the right to smell other people’s butts and act like a dog but that wouldn’t be sane. However, for Catholics, the belief is that God owns your bodies and the Church is simply pointing out that there’s a better way to exercise your rights. The Church won’t coerce you to not act stupid (Like how? Pull a gun?).


Mini Roundup: Two totally contrasting views on the “Open Hearts, Open Minds” event makes you wonder whether they were even attending the same conference.

October 22, 2010

October 21, 2010

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