The controversy over the RH Bill is becoming or has become a war of religions. Pitted against each other are, on the one hand, “good” Catholics, and, on the other, the Iglesia ni Kristo, Protestant denominations, Muslims and “bad” Catholics. By “bad Catholics” I mean the kind of Catholics whom “good” priests supported by their “good” bishop consider unworthy to enter a Catholic church. And since I myself do not see the variousissues as clear black against white, I have been urged by some “good” Catholics to leave the church before I say anything more on the issue. It is a sad day for the Catholic church which I love.
When I heard about the priest who told those who accept the RH Bill to leave the church, two passages from the New Testament came to mind. I refer, first, to the driving of money changers out of the temple premises. Jesus fashioned a whip out of chords, and drove the “bad guys” out of the premises. But, unlike the driven out “bad Catholics,” the “bad guys” in the New Testament story were not there to pray; they were there to make money. And they were not even in the inner portion of the Temple. Jesus had every right to say that his Father’s house was not meant to be a market place.
Another incident is the story of the woman caught in adultery. She was dragged before Our Lord by “good” people. And the Mosaic law was clear: a woman caught in adultery must be stoned. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said. And he bent down to scribble on the ground, to scribble perhaps the names of the accusers. One by one the “good” guys slinked away.
The moral of the story is, which I like to tell those who ask me why I continue to teach “bad guys” in the Ateneo Law School: Christ came to save sinners, even defenders of the RH Bill.
The debate on the RH Bill started in 2008, or perhaps even earlier, but it was interrupted by concern about the coming elections. When the debate resumed in 2009, it was difficult for many, myself included, to be totally for or totally against the RH Bill because it had many facets. I believe that the complexity of the issues presented by the bill is the reason that, while some priests and bishops have been vocal against the bill, others have largely remained silent. And I often wonder how many of them have bothered to study the Bill.
Since 2009, the proposal in the House has undergone some very substantial changes. The original proponents of the Bill have agreed to tone down or eliminate some of the provisions being objected to. Let me enumerate some.
The original bill said that local government units should “give priority to family planning work.” What is now being proposed is that local government units will “help implement this Act.”
With regard to mandatory age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education, the proposal now says “Parents shall have the option of not allowing their minor children to attend classes pertaining to Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education.” Moreover, the provision on the ideal family size is being deleted.
Deleted also is the section on employers’ responsibility on reproductive health which merely amplifies what is already provided for in the Labor Code.
Likewise deleted was the specific enumeration of allowable contraceptive devices and methods. Instead, the proposal is for the allowance of contraceptive methods that are in general safe and legal. This would mean a prohibition of contraceptive methods that are abortifacient once they have been scientifically identified. This is what the government did after Postinor was identified as abortifacient.
Will these proposed changes, even if all of them become part of the law, put an end to the debate? Definitely it will not. Very much at the heart of the debate is the teaching on methods of family planning. I do not see the Catholic Church or the other churches yielding on this issue. In the light of this insoluble division, how then should the debate be conducted?
The Catholic Social Teaching on this may be found in what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) under the CBCP states: “The public defense of gospel values, especially when carried into the arena of public policy formulation, whether through the advocacy of lay leaders or the moral suasion by pastors, is not without limit. . . It needs emphasizing, that, although pastors have the liberty to participate in policy debate and formulation, that liberty must not be exercised to the detriment of the religious freedom of non-communicants, or even of dissenting communicants. This is a clear implication of Vatican II’s Dignitatis humanae. This is not just a matter of prudence; it is a matter of justice.”
Of special application to a country where Catholics are a majority is the teaching of the Compendium on the Social Teaching of the Church which says: “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups” and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.” This, too, is the teaching of Dignitatis Humanae. (No. 6)
2 May 2011