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RH debate: Let reason prevail

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“Be a listening Church,” a professor of Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, Mary Racelis, said on Sunday as she appealed to irate bishops to “listen to the laity who understand what the families and the women from the grassroots are going through.”

Racelis was reacting to the adamant protests of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) against the Reproductive Health Bill, who have moved mountains and threatened its supporters with heavenly damnation in decades-long efforts to stop any kind of family planning.

Fr. Ranhillo Callangan Aquino, a law dean at the San Beda College who writes a weekly column for the Manila Standard, last year also called for sobriety and rationality in the RH Bill debate, and demanded that the Roman Catholic Church should be ready to convince the people – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – that the use of artificial means of contraception is not acceptable.

Fr. Aquino challenged his fellow priests to “study philosophy and theology more assiduously —and to engage skeptics as well as well-intentioned men and women who do not share our faith in intellectual dialogue, and to be prepared with arguments that can win the attention and the respect of those who have no patience with, or regard for Scriptural quotations.”

He added: “If the only response the Church can give (against the use of artificial means of contraception) is “Humanae Vitae” and the consistent teaching of the popes and of most (certainly not all!) bishops, then that is not good enough an argument for the public sphere.”

Another law dean-priest, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, said in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer about the RH Bill: “I am dismayed by preachers telling parishioners that support for the RH bill ipso facto is a serious sin or merits excommunication! I find this to be irresponsible.”

Sen. Edgardo Angara in 2010 also urged the local Roman Catholic Church to keep in step with the times instead of propagating “outdated, unprogressive ideas.” He said that if the Catholic Church confines itself to pulpit preaching and does not back this up with social action, then it will lose its moral authority.

The CBCP apparently would have none of these appeals for rationality because despite the low turnout in a pro-Life rally organized by the CBCP at the Luneta on the eve of a vote in the House of Representatives to end the RH Bill debate, the bishops continue to threaten the bill’s congressional supporters that they would suffer the wrath of the scorned Church in the 2013 elections.

In May last year, the Church organized a rally among its faithful at the Luneta as a show of force against the RH Bill but they were able to gather only about 10,000, the same number they had over the rainy weekend. It wasn’t raining in May.

For years, proponents of family planning have attempted to pass a law that would slow down the Philippines’ 2.04% annual population growth rate, one of the highest in the world and the highest in Asia, but strong opposition from the Church had shot down all the proposals. The bill sponsors could not get enough votes to even bring the measure to the floor for deliberations because of the constant threat by the Church to campaign against lawmakers and officials who would support the proposed law.

The Church is again risking its influence over the Filipino Catholics by openly campaigning against the RH Bill supporters. In the 2010 presidential election, candidate Benigno S. Aquino III stood his ground against the bishops in supporting the RH Bill and won.

The bishops refuse to accept the fact that in surveys after surveys, 65% to 69% of Filipinos expressed support for the bill. The Church also ignores the stark realities in the Philippines – an almost 100 million population that the government’s scarce resources can hardly support, an ever-increasing poverty rate currently pegged at 33%, a malnutrition rate of 26%, and 15 women lost each day to maternal death, and 79,000 backroom abortions each year.

The Church cannot impose on the government its belief that any kind of birth control method other than the natural method should not be allowed. The government has the responsibility to arrest the rapid population growth in the same manner that the Church has the responsibility to promote the spiritual well being of its faithful according to the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.

Obviously, the Church will not back down on its stand. On the other hand, the government must not turn its back on its responsibility to promote the general welfare of the people, which includes keeping the population within the limits of what the government can provide in terms of basic services and what the economy can support.

Let the State implement a Reproductive Health Bill that’s acceptable to the people, whether they are Catholics or not, and let the Church tell its faithful to stick to the natural method of contraception and reject any other means. After all, the proposed RH Bill does not aim to impose the use of any kind of contraceptive. It only aims to inform the people of their options with regards to planning the size of their family, and to assist them once they have made their choice.

I don’t see any problem with that arrangement, unless the Church is no longer confident that its dogma can hold its own against reality and reason.

(val.abelgas@aol.com)

By Val G. Abelgas




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