Meddling Bishops, Filipino Style.

While meddling bishops in Minnesota are dividing the Church over gay marriage, and those in Mexico are working themselves into a froth over gay adoption, their counterparts in the Philippines are doing their best to destroy the church over – contraception!

The Philippines is unique in Asia as a majority Catholic country – 80-83% are described as “Catholic”.  Every Easter, some of the devout famously commemorate the crucifixion by putting themselves through the same agony. A quarter of a century ago, in the famous “yellow revolution” that put an end to the corruption of President Marcos and his shoe-fixated wife Imelda, the wonderfully named Cardinal Sin played an important part, demonstrating the commitment of the Catholic faith to justice and the marginalized poor.


Philippines, crucifixion re-enactment


In the rest of the world, “Humanae Vitae” and its condemnation of artificial contraception is widely acknowledged to be a dead letter. In overwhelmingly Catholic Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland, the majority of the population use contraceptives in total defiance of the well-known Vatican doctrine. Across the rest of Western Europe, in countries that are not primarily Catholic, the numbers using contraception nevertheless exceed the proportions who are not Catholic. In overwhelmingly Catholic Latin America, clear majorities of the women are using contraception – 70% in each of Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.

In the Philipinnes, where contraceptives are not even freely available to the poor, usage is as high as 36%.  You really would have thought that the country’s bishops would know when to leave well alone – but no. During the recent election campaign they lobbied vigorously against government proposals to open up and liberalize access to contraception. They lost that battle, but with the newly elected government’s election promises now being given legislative structure, the intense lobbying against them is continuing.

In supreme irony, the bishops are threatening “civil disobedience”, and promising to consult the country’s “lay leaders” on the matter. Which lay leaders? Do they not recognise that in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, the important lay leaders are precisely the elected leaders they are so vigorously opposing?  The matter of reproductive health was a major election issue – and the Filipino Catholics soundly rejected the bishops’ opposition to modern contraception. The “civil disobedience”  the bishops threaten to unleash is already endemic to Philippine Catholicism, as deliberate, conscientious dissent from Vatican doctrine on the matter.

When will these bishops get the message? The doctrine espoused by “Humanae Vitae” contradicts the recommendations of the Vatican’s own commission of experts. It is internally contradictory, in its recognition of the validity of the principle of contraception and family planning in furthering the unitive value of marital intercourse, but drawing an unrealistic and untenable distinction between “natural” and “artificial” contraceptive methods. It is widely rejected by Catholic married couples across many regions of the world, frequently with the explicit support or even encouragement of their priests, and even (privately) many bishops. This widespread rejection clearly demonstrate that it obviously does not have the support of “the church as a whole”, and so cannot be said to have the “Sensus Fidelium”. Without that SF, “Humanae Vitae” cannot be considered as authentic and valid Catholic teaching.

Anywhere else. and the bishops have long since learned to exercise a discreet silence on this particular Vatican doctrine. They know only too well that too vigorous a condemnation of modern family planning methods would quickly empty the churches and their collection plates.  Somebody should pass on the message to Manila –  before the national church is irrevocably and irreparably crucified.

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