8 REASONS WHY CATHOLICS SUPPORT RH
By Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago
(Keynote speech at the program sponsored by the Catholics for Reproductive Health, on15 September 2012, at the UP College of Social Work and Development)
The Catholic Church Does Not Consider
Anti-RH Teaching as Infallible
Theology consists of critical reflection on faith. St. Anselm of Canterbury gave to us the classic definition of theology as: “Faith seeking understanding.” But theology is the result not only of faith, but also of certain normative rules which fall into two categories: doctrines and dogmas. Doctrines consist of beliefs or teachings which receive the official approval of the Church.
But by contrast, dogmas, which literally mean “what is right,” are doctrines that are taught definitively and promulgated with the highest solemnity. In other words, dogmas are the definitive rules of faith. If you reject a dogma, you become a heretic. Parenthetically, it is very strange that our Church has failed to enumerate what are the Catholic dogmas.
A teaching which is dogma is infallible; but a teaching which is mere doctrine is not infallible. A doctrine can change over time. Thus, the 1973 Mysterium Ecclesiae, a declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states: “The expressions of revelation are historically conditioned, and therefore the meaning is not always self-evident to those in some other historical setting. The meaning in dogmatic language may change from one historical period to another. The truth itself may be expressed incompletely.”
In his classic bestseller, the 1994 revised edition of the book entitled Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien of the University of Notre Dame, said: “The Church has never explicitly claimed to such infallibility on a moral question.” The RH issue is a moral question. The Catholic Church has never claimed that any pronouncement on the RH issue is infallible.
And in the 1996 book Christ Among Us, Anthony Wilhelm said that on the question of contraception: “The large majority of theologians agree that no question of infallibility is involved.”
The Catholic Enjoys Freedom of Conscience
Every Catholic, like any citizen, enjoys freedom of conscience. In fact, modern theology now recognizes the primacy of conscience over mere doctrines formulated by certain clerics. In 1965, Pope Paul 6 issued an encyclical letter entitled Dignitatis Humanae, also known as Declaration on Religious Freedom. The Pope wrote: “Man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity, a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of living. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience.”
In 1967, the same Pope Paul 6 issued another encyclical entitled Populorum Progreso, also known as “On the Development of Peoples.” The Pope said: “It is for the parish to decide, with full knowledge of the matter, on the number of their children . . . in all these they must follow the demands of their own conscience.”
The 1971 statement by the US Sacred Congregation for the Clergy states: “Conscience is invulnerable and no person is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his (or her) conscience.”
Years later, in 1993, Pope John Paul 23 issued his encyclical entitled Veritatis Splendor, also known as Splendor of Truth. The Pope said: “The authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. The Church puts herself always and only in the service of conscience.”
And in 1996, in the book Christ Among Us, which I have already cited, Anthony Wilhelm wrote that some “500 American theologians, in concert with many theologians throughout the world, asserted that for grave reasons Catholics may follow their conscience this matter even though the Pope has spoken.”
Quoting Andrew Greeley, both a priest and socialist, Wilhelm reached the following conclusion: “It is a clear teaching that, while erroneous decisions might be made in following one’s conscience, one who has tried to inform one’s conscience must then follow it.”
RH Observes the “Preferential Option for the Poor,”
Under Liberation Theology
Liberation theology is the theory which interprets liberation from social, political, and economic oppression as an anticipation of eschatological or post-death salvation. The following are the basic principles of liberation theology:
- It is the Church and not merely the Catholic hierarchy, which is a sacrament.
- By Church, we mean the whole People of God, not just the hierarchy.
- The whole People of God participates in the mission of Christ, and not just in the mission of the Catholic hierarchy.
- The mission of the Church includes service to those in need, and, parenthetically, service to the women of the poor. The mission of the Church is not limited to the preaching of the gospel or the celebration of the sacraments.
In his 1988 book, A Theory of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez wrote that the preferential option for the poor is central in liberation theology. He advocated giving “preference to the poorest and most needy sectors.” He reminded Catholics of the statement made by Pope John Paul 23 just before the opening of Vatican 2 that the Church is called upon to be a church of the poor. Gutierrez said: “Let me say only that we have here two aspects of the church’s life that are both demanding and inseparable: universality and preference for the poor.”
RH is Part of Today’s Sense of the Faithful,
Also Known as Sensus Fidelium
Literally, sensus fidelium means “the sense of the faithful.” It refers to doctrinal truth recognized by the whole body of the faithful. In theology, the sense of the faithful belongs to the individual believer within the community of the faithful. In other words, God teaches us not only through the priests and the bishops, but also through the laity, to whom God gives understanding of the faith.
In opposing the RH bill, certain members of the Catholic religious fail to listen effectively to the sense of the faithful. The Catholic clergy have a moral duty to take into consideration the experiences and consciousness of the laity. The religious should descend from the pulpit and consult with parishioners on RH. Today we find some of the male religious issuing their orders and directives from the pulpit, or in other words using the bully pulpit. Some of them manage only to appeal to blind faith, instead of participating in a consultative process with the Catholic laity, particularly the poor and the underprivileged.
Surveys Showing Catholic Support for RH is
“A Sign of the Times”
The majority of Filipinos are Catholics. A nationwide survey therefore serves as a basis for assuming that the results of the survey reflect the thinking of Catholics. At the most recent survey conducted last August 2011 by the Social Weather Stations, the results produced “Yes” answers to the following questions:
- “The choice of a family planning method is a personal choice of couples, and no one should interfere with it.” – Yes, 82%
- “If a couple wants to plan its family, it would be able to get information from government on all legal methods.” – Yes, 73%
- The government should fund all means of family planning, be it natural or artificial means.” – Yes, 68%
In other countries like the Philippines, which are predominantly Catholic, many are using family planning programs, including contraception, using public funding. Some of these countries and the percentage of Catholic for each are as follows:
- Italy, 97% Catholic
- Poland, 94%
- Paraguay, 90%
- Portugal, 90%
- Ecuador, 90%
- Argentina, 89%
- Spain, 88%
This explains why that in these Catholic countries, the population growth rate is very low, hovering between .02 to .05% population growth rate. By contrast, the Philippines, without an RH law, has a population growth rate of 2.01%.
Since God is Love, RH is Proof of Love for the Poor
And Therefore is Proof of Love for God
The Catholic concept of God as love, is diametrically opposed to the fact that everyday, 15 Filipino mothers die from pregnancy and childbirth complications. When I last read my Bible, I came across the passage describing Jesus surrounded by disciples. As students, they decided to raise this question with Jesus, who acted as their teacher: “Master, what is the greatest law of all?” and Jesus answered: “The first law is that you should love God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul. And the second law is that you should love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the Catholic Church, what has happened to the concept of love as the moral force of the universe? The Catholic religious, particularly the clerics, insist quite loudly that we should all obey the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, also known as “On the Regulation of Birth,” issued by Pope Paul 6. This encyclical was the result of a Special Papal Commission established by Pope John 23 and concluded during the term of Pope Paul 6.
The Papal Commission was split into two. The majority proposed that contraception should no longer be condemned. By contrast, the minority proposed that the Pope should continue to condemn contraception. Perversely, Pope Paul 6 decided to adopt the minority view.
Unfortunately, the Pope rejected the majority view supporting artificial contraception, based on the following arguments:
- The teaching of the Catholic Church evolves over time.
- The problem with some of the religious is that they view the conjugal act as an isolated reality. But today, under the principle of totality, the conjugal act is viewed in the broader context of human love, family life, education, etc.
The majority opinion specifically stated that instead of viewing sex as a mere physical act designed to perpetuate the human race, instead: “In some cases intercourse can be required as a manifestation of self-giving love.”
I very humbly submit that in their blind allegiance to the encyclical Humane Vitae and ignoring that it embodies the minority opinion of the Special Papal Commission, the Catholic religious in this country, particularly the priests and bishops, continue the obsolete notion that the Church is an authoritarian structure. The Filipino Catholic religious should now accept that they do not constitute the Church. Instead, the Church is primarily constituted by the whole people of God. The Filipino Catholic religious should engage all members of the Church in dialogues.
Filipino Catholics should now insist that priests and bishops in our country are no longer a special caste in Philippine society. The Catholic Church does not consist of the priests and bishops alone. Instead, the Church consists of the whole faith community.
I very humbly submit that since the priest is no longer a special person in Catholic theology, many Filipino priests are suffering from a sense of confusion about RH.
Anti-RH is Cruelty to the Poor
On the RH issue, the Church hierarchy insists upon what it chooses to call morality, as if they have exclusive jurisdiction over morality. In the name of morality, the Church strongly opposes RH, thus inflicting upon the poor people undeserved and unnecessary suffering. In this aspect, the Church appears to be the opponent of progress and of improvement that would otherwise diminish suffering in the world. The Church chooses to label as morality a certain set of rules of conduct, which have nothing to do with human happiness.
Does the Church love and care for the Filipino poor? They are miserable, because among other reasons, they have so many children. Without reproductive knowledge and information, the poor are just condemned to a vicious cycle of poverty, from generation to generation.
I very humbly submit that in its methodology, the Catholic religious is unconsciously basing our religion on fear. Bertrand Russell, the famous writer and philosopher, and also one of the great heretics in morals and religion, has attacked religion with this passage which applies squarely to the campaign against RH: “Religion is partly the terror of the unknown and . . . partly the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.” And he urged his readers as follows: “Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it . . . A good world needs knowledge, candidness, and courage.”
The RH Bill is Over Ten Years Old; It is Cowardly
to Keep Postponing the Decision
It appears that in Congress, the first precursor to the RH bill was filed in 2001. The bill is now 11 years old. If the present efforts to delay the bill by means of a filibuster in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, then this will be proof that legislators are afraid of the Catholic vote. We do not even know whether there is such a thing as a Catholic vote. But any reasonable person would immediately reach the conclusion that some of our legislators refuse to face the facts squarely. Perhaps they think that if they are anti-RH, they will automatically go to heaven; while the pro-RH legislators will automatically go to hell. I repeat my belief that there is no hell; but if there is, there is nobody there because God is everlasting love.