In the Philippines, where the Catholic bishops are engaged in a foolhardy, Quixotic fight against the government’s plans to reform the national reproductive health system by easing access to contraception for low-income families, their latest salvo is a highly offensive attempt to justify their stance by invoking the memory of the church’s historic role on the side of the poor and for justice,during the remarkable display of people power which unseated former President Marcos and his wife Imelda (and her famous shoes). The two issues are not comparable.
In a speech before the delegates of the 17th Asia-Pacific Congress on Faith and Family on Sunday morning, Vidal said: “The Church is being portrayed as an intolerant power block bent on imposing its will on the nation, running roughshod over the will of most Filipinos.”
He said the public seems to have forgotten the role of the Catholic Church during the EDSA People Power I and II.
He said the Church then was hailed as “a force for reform and liberation” even if the issues were political.
“Now that the issue is moral and much more proper to the Church’s concern, we are accused of using undue influence and interfering in politics,” he said.
The issue is not whether the Church is right to “interfere” in politics. I am entirely satisfied that the Church has an obligation to offer guidance on public matters, as well as the private. My concern is how this guidance is issued, and whether the guidance offered is in accord with the teaching of the whole church – that is, does it have the support of the sensus fidelium, and whose interests are being served.
In the struggle against the Marcos’ , Cardinal Sin and his colleagues were supporting an oppressed people on the side of justice – which is fundamental to Christian teaching, and especially to Catholicism. In the modern struggle against the Reproductive Health bill, they are supporting nothing more than an indefensible, widely discredited Vatican doctrine, in clear opposition to the interests of the people, and especially those of the most impoverished. (If successful in opposing the bill, the bishops will not be preventing contraception – just in limiting its availability for the poor. The rich will continue to access contraception, just as they have been doing for years.)
Vidal, who served as president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in 1986, remembers what the bishops and archbishops went through during those times.
He noted some of them held the view that issuing a statement regarding the fraudulent 1986 elections was “undemocratic.”
Nonetheless, they pushed through in releasing the statement, which proved to be history-changing, he said.
“I assure you, the drafters of the statement did not rely on surveys and opinion polls as they read the situation based on their collective experience as they illumined their experience with principles from Scriptures and Church doctrines because they drew conclusions using right reason and sound logical principles,” he explained.
There was no need for opinion polls – it was obvious that the election was fraudulent. Saying so was not remotely “undemocratic”, it was simply speaking the truth – an important biblical injunction, as the Vatican and the bishops frequently remind us. The Philippine bishops’ current statements are not speaking the truth, however – they are riddled with falsehoods and misrepresentations.
Reclaiming of justice
The fight then is similar to the Church’s present move to oppose the RH Bill, he said.
Vidal said it was then not about ending dictatorship but “the reclaiming of justice.”
“The issue is not about claiming the power to dictate, but the protection of the values that hold our nation together and while the issues then and now may be different, the Church uses the same principles in its courses of action – what the Holy Father (Benedict XVI) calls as ‘the ethical foundation of civil discourse,” he said.
There is no sense in which this is about protecting the values that hold the Philippine nation together, but those that unite only the episcopal power bloc of the Catholic church. The teaching against artificial contraception is not supported by ordinary Philippine Catholics, any more than it is in the rest of the world. Nor is it supported by the clergy, many of whom will privately accept or even encourage their parishioners’ use, in conscience , of artificial contraception. Nor is it accepted by all bishops – many of whom will likewise support (in private) their priests’ acceptance of parishioners’ decisions. A few, such as Bishop Kevin Dowling, will even say so in public. Nor is it accepted even by the Vatican’s own expert advisors: the document which was issued as “Humanae Vitae” directly contradicted the advice of the Pope’s own committee of experts on the subject.
It is completely orthodox Catholic teaching that to be valid, Church teaching must have the support of the whole Church. It is also orthodox teaching, frequently referred to by Pope Benedict XVI, that the formulation of new theology must be responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. One of the ways in which we can read the voice of the Spirit speaking to us, is through prayerful reflection on our responses to experience. On matters of sexual ethics, celibate clergy can have no real-life experience of their own. On these matters, it is especially important that they pay attention to the voice of lay Catholics who have such experience. This they have not done. Until they do, I fail to see how they can claim any credibility on sexual ethics at all.
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