Why the Church RH position is tenuous

Religion and Science are often seen at odds. The Roman Catholic Church’s inquisition banned Galileo Galilei’s works. Galileo is considered as the Father of modern science. Recently, Pope Benedict said that condoms are not the solution to Aids, but in fact make it worst. Yet, Science and religion are hardly at odds when many discoveries have been because of the Church— the Manila Observatory was funded by the Spanish crown, and the Jesuit priests who ran it have added to science.


Some see for example the debate on going in the Philippines on reproductive health as one between Relgion and Science. Many of the bill’s critics say is a pro-abortion bill; that condoms are instruments of abortion. The vehemence is great that those against the bill. It has been labeled as Stalinist for example. In the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church in fact this is a huge issue that it has threatened President Aquino with excommunication.

The Catholic Church— rather, the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines— have been adamant that their position against the Reproductive Health bill is a moral one.

There is a belief amongst those against the Reproductive Health Bill that it is a license to abortion. The bill does not make abortion into law. There is not one line in the bill that legalizes abortion, not is it implied in the bill that abortion was being made legal.

The leaders of the Catholic Church assert that the use of contraceptives, particularly the condom is an agent of abortion. The Church position is that upon fertilization of the egg, by the sperm— life is born and to destroy that is equal to abortion. It is a good boundary as any. Following that line of thinking, the fact of the matter is that the condom doesn’t ever allow the sperm and the egg to meet. Hence, there is no fertilization that takes place, so no life is created in the first place. There is no life to abort.

It is a tenuous argument at best.

The Church actually is making a mistake by simplifying the argument on reproductive health by focusing on the technology, and less where it is actually suppose to be an expert— morality.

If you look at the argument of the pro-Reproductive Health, what they want is for couples to have a greater understanding of reproductive health. If you listen to and read the arguments of the President— he is saying that he is for responsible parenthood. That it is in the interest of the state to teach the population all the option it needs so that the couple can take care their family. The couple should be able to decide for their own, how many children they should have. What’s the optimum distance between children. Show them the full option— natural family planning, contraceptives, etc. Oddly enough, that’s what the Church is suppose to do in the first place— guide families into proper parenthood, but does frequently less of.

The argument of the Church against contraceptives roots itself in the encyclical of Pope Paul VI called, Humanae Vitae. That’s Latin for “Of Human Life.” It is a genius piece of moral guidance, if one reads it. Here’s a snippet of what it says about Responsible Parenthood:

“Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9)

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.”

You don’t hear Humanae Vitae being preached to the flock, do you?

Is that because the Church doesn’t understand it, or is it because they Filipinos as unable to understand?

It is from Humanae Vitae that the Church also describes sex as an act that ought to happen between a married man and woman, and that sex ought to be between them and that it is a sacred act.

It is from this encyclical that Pope John Paul II draws his line from his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, “when love it is truly responsible, it is truly free.”

You can see here why the Church is so adamant why Artificial Contraception is evil not because it is an abortive tool, as some of the anti-RH bill personalities are attributing the debate to, and ergo confusing the debate as Religion versus Science. It is at the end of the day, a teaching of the Church that considers sex as something between husband and wife and a totality of that relationship. On that question— clearly that is a matter between the Church leaders and their flock to discuss over because that is at the end of the day, a personal belief driven by their religion.

Abortion
What of abortion?

As Felicity quoted The Guttmacher Institute in her Pro Pinoy piece, “The woman, the law, and the unborn baby: the Abortion ban in the Philippines.” They talked about abortion and said that “restrictions on abortion do not reduce the incidence of abortion. In fact, the incidence of abortions drop in countries where nearly all abortions are safe and legal.”

She concluded,

“How far can the state go in “teaching values” to its constituents, if at all? At the same time, the state cannot ignore such a significant health problem that is tied to its laws.

Our lawmakers should go back to the Constitution: “[the State] shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” We have the laws that protect the children. We also need laws that protect the women.”

In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the late Pope John Paul II wrote that one of the many reasons why women go through abortion is that they’ve been abandoned by the man at a crucial juncture. He wrote (page 206 to 207):

Therefore, in firmly rejecting “pro choice” it is necessary to become courageously “pro-woman,” promoting a choice that is truly in favor of women. It is precisely the woman, in fact, who pays the highest price, not only for her motherhood, but even more for its destruction, for the suppression of the life of the child who has been conceived. The only honest stance, in these cases, is that of radical solidarity with the woman. It is not right to leave her alone.

The experiences of many counseling centers show that the woman does not want to suppress the life of the child she carries within her. If she is supported in this attitude, and if at the same time she is freed from the intimidation of those around her, then she is even capable of heroism. As I have said, numerous counseling centers are witness to this, as are, in a special way, houses for teenage mothers. It seems, therefore, that society is beginning to develop a more mature attitude in this regard, even if there are still many self-styled “benefactors” who claim to “help” women by liberating them from the prospect of motherhood.

If the Church has concluded for many years that this is the solution to prevent less abortions, where then are the local counseling centers?

Population and development
Now, the state’s position is that for one, we have a population explosion. That there is a need to slow that rate. We have too many poor families for instance that can’t afford to be fed. We’ve too many young people that the state can not afford to pay their education.

It doesn’t really take all that much to reasonably conclude this. Just drive around the nearest shanty town or cruise around Metro Manila. How many of those kids out there will grow up with less education because simply they can’t afford it?

Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to educate them that having kids is a responsibility of the parent? How will the parents feed them? How will the parents send them to school? How will the parents guarantee their future?

This is instead of the practice, the firm belief that children are made to life the parent out of poverty— that the kids are the hope out of poverty.

Mechai Viravaidya in this TedTalk was about “how Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place:”

On one hand there is reasonable evidence that there is a correlation between population and development. Population and Development has been argued quite rationally by the Cusp:

The Philippine population growth rate was also declining, but at a slower rate. Only in 2000 was it able to drop to 2% which Thailand had already breached back in 1985.

One might argue that the direction of causality is not fully established. Higher income countries by and large tend to have lower birth rates not vice versa (although recently, that argument has itself collapsed, as I highlighted in this previous blog entry). At least in this instance, one can clearly see that the slowing of the population boom in Thailand preceded its economic expansion.

Other variables might also have intervened such as industrial policies for instance, or different financial and political conditions; but, by and large, one can argue the case that had the Philippines followed the same population policy as its neighbor, it might have grown just as rapidly and reduced the incidence of poverty as a consequence. Taken in this light, one might frame the debate over sex education and family planning more meaningfully.

The economics aside, there really is a matter of the state to push for reproductive health or even a practice of responsible parenthood. We can no longer afford another generation where our children have little opportunity simply because their parents can not properly arm them for the challenges of tomorrow. Worst still, is a generation given birth to, simply to life the family out of poverty.

It is not the children’s job to life a family out of poverty. It is the parent’s job to ensure that the kids become more than who they ever could.

It is therefore the State’s job to present Filipinos all the choices possible. To arm them with knowledge of the pros and the cons of each contraceptive. To teach them family planning— to encourage them not to have children until they could afford to have children. New parents must be made to realize the gravity of the job they have— how will they send their kids to college, eventually for example?

Religion versus Science
To frame this debate on Reproductive Health as a matter of Religion versus Science is a mistake. While there are many scientists who do not belief in a deity, some who do belief see the universe as an expression of God’s.

Pope John Paul II spoke of religion and science and framed it this way, “The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer.”

Recently, astronomers have discovered a planet that could have life. If that would be the case, it would answer a fundamental question of humanity: “Are we alone in the universe?”

How would religion react to that?

Reproductive health bill

The Roman Catholic Church position that condoms are abortive agents is of course, best described by the word, “truthiness.” The hardline position of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is reflective of the Vatican position of no contraception.

It is their constitutional right to express their belief, but they are wrong.

The state has a right to be equally present all views irregardless of religious belief because not every Filipino is Catholic. Such law does not diminish in any measure the Church’s right, obligation and duty to its flock. It is their role to educate their flock in the beliefs and tenants of the Church. It is a belief of the Catholic Church that artificial contraceptives goes against Humane Vitae— it isn’t the Filipino nation that it needs to convince of that, but Filipino Catholics.

What the Reproductive Health bill does contain?

Local governments are required to employ mid-wives to attend to children being born.

It talks about emergency obstetric care.

Filipinos will be given access to Family Planning as well as supplies and essential medicines. The law also mandates that the local family planning office give instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition for everyone applying for a marriage license. Meaning they’re going to be given a seminar right before they get married.

The state shall also assist Filipinos in getting their desired family size, and encourage a two children policy as ideal— and this is strictly a suggestion.

There will be a mandatory maternal death review for all government hospitals.

The government is tasked to give maximum benefits for life-threatening reproductive health conditions such as HIV and AIDS, as well as breast and reproductive tract cancers and obstetric complications.

Every congressional district is being given a Mobile Health Care Service that will deliver goods and services to the poor and needy as well as distribute knowledge and information on reproductive health.

The law mandates age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education. In simple terms, teach kids the “birds and the bees.”

The law also protects women who are pregnant— that their pregnancy not be grounds for non-hiring or termination of employment.

In short, this is a bill that addresses real issues that affect the poorest of the poor.

Breaking the impasse
The local church has taken a hardline position. Yet, it does not offer options for its flock. While it goes against the technology, there is little to none of the counseling centers the Church itself has determined to be the most effective way to deal with abortions and conforms nice with Church teachings— if only it choses to follow it.

The Church’s arrogance on the issue of Reproductive health is off-putting, even to many of its flock.

The Philippines is a deeply Catholic nation. The state has a responsibility to ensure that every Filipino’s right is guaranteed. The reproductive health bill is not an abortion law. While some of its provisions maybe distasteful to the Church— the law does not prevent the Church from advocating to its flock that they shouldn’t use contraceptives. That is a matter for Filipino Catholics to take up with their Church after all.

Filipino Catholics are not forced to used condoms should the bill become law. At the end of the day, it is their decision to follow whatever procedure they decide on. What is important here is that they make an informed decision.

The proposed legislation does not take the moral choice out of the equation. More than ever, the Church needs to preach where it is coming from. Sadly, it rarely does, except through fear and arrogance. It uses fear instead of love as weapons of choice. Instead of threats of excommunication, it ought to be establishing more counseling stations not just for unwed mothers, but for all women in need. The Church must embrace being pro woman.

The debate on Reproductive Health isn’t exactly a debate. There is no question of a tipping point because more than half of Filipinos even before the election have been in favor for RH. So there is no debate to convince the population whether this is good or bad. All this drama exist only in Congress— why aren’t they voting for this bill? Are they scared of the Church?

The reproductive health bill is one of those bills that need to become Law.

The case of the reproductive health bill is not one of religion versus science. It is simply a startling reminder that the local Church needs to enrich the Filipino’s soul with the best of Catholicism, and not its worst. It should fill it with faith and not truthiness. It is a startling too that for once, the State is actually trying to do its job, and the Church is at odds with it. The State is not wrong in the matter of reproductive health. It is ironic though that it is the State and not the Church that is leading in defense of every life.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • Dexter Amoroso

    Mike Tan,

    You said that contraception is an “intrinsic evil” is only through your eyes. It’s like saying that “what is sin for me, is not sin for you”. “What is true for you, is not true for me”. Or sin is sin if you believe in it”. The problem is that two truths cannot contradict each other and both be true. Either a) one is true and the other is false; or, b) neither are true because there is no such thing as objective, unalterable truth.

    Solution b) is contrary to human experience. If b) were the correct solution, then we would have to conclude that Hitler, Stalin, Paedophiles, Rapists & Murderers are not necessarily authors of evil, but rather they were human beings like you and me pursuing “their truth” as they saw it, and who am I to tell them that they are wrong to do it. If we reject the existence of an objective truth, then we reject the existence of right & wrong and good & evil. Yet, everyone I have ever met has had a sense of right and wrong, and their has always been large areas of agreement between people about what is right, and what is wrong. In fact, even most criminals recognise that what they are did what wrong, it is simply that they chose to do it anyway.

    The rejection of truth empties this life of all meaning, it reduces life to being a series of sensual experiences, after which one dies, and it is as if that person never existed, at least once s/he is forgotten within 50 yrs, or so.

    Therefore, I would encourage you to hold position a) – there is an objective truth. However, for there to be an objective truth, there must have been an author of that truth. Humans couldn’t have evolved into an objective truth, it must have come from outside humanity, from above, therefore, if you hold a), then it follows that there must be a God.

    If God exists and has authored one truth, then presumably he has revealed this to us – there would be no point concealing the truth from us.

    As a Catholic, I believe that God has revealed his truth to us in Jesus Christ (cf. John 14.6), and that to proclaim his message of truth with clarity throughout every age he established one Church (cf. Matt. 16.18), and that this Church continues to guard and proclaim the deposit of Faith revealed by Christ.

  • Dexter Amoroso

    Mike Tan,

    True, the articles are directly pro-Catholic. However, I doubt you will find an “objective” article on the subject. Usually someone is pushing an agenda. In any case, I think an important point to be taken away from the articles is that the issue is not nearly as black and white as the enemies of the Church would have you believe.

    If you “really” were interested in the subject you could delve into it with a lot of primary and secondary sources, reading commentary on both sides of the issue. Determine the facts. Based on the facts, you can come to your own conclusion.

    Personally, as a man of faith and science, I see the excercise as pointless – but certainly there’s nothing wrong with the endeavor if it interests a particular person.

  • Bert

    “Contraception is an “intrinsic evil” thus shouldn’t be an option. Family planning by spouses taking under consideration all the resources at their disposal and their personal, family and community needs is perfectly acceptable. NFP is in no way a contraceptive act. The act remains pure, natural and marital. A sexual act using contraception is not pure natural or marital.”-Dexter

    I would like to take exception to that statement.

    By its sociological definition, CONTRACEPTIVE is related to an action used for contraception, able or tending to prevent impregnation.

    Whether it be natural family planning, such as withdrawal or the rhythm method, or by using an artificial means such as the condom, the definition apply. Therefore, to say that “NFP is in no way a contraceptive act” is incorrect. What’s in a name, natural or artificial, the purpose and objective is the same…to prevent impregnation. The terms “pure”, “natural”, and “marital” are subjective terms, not relevant as to the purpose of the action of preventing impregnation, because, though the condom is certainly artificial, it can also be considered “pure” and “marital” when used by a legally married couple.

    Therefore, it can be said that, if “Contraception is an “intrinsic evil” and thus should not be an option, the natural method is as “evil” and not an option as well.

  • Felicity

    Dexter, the Magestirium or whatever it is of the CHurch is not the government. Live with it. Church = spirituality, Government = policy. Leave the policymaking to the government. DIVISION OF CHURCH AND STATE.

    The only reason the Church is freaking out about the RH Bill thing is because it assumes it will promote promiscuity, and f that is the case, then the Church is not doing its job in “guiding its flock.”

    But can you leave the non-flock alone? This is a matter of State policy. If you don’t like it, move to the Vatican. Even there you can use condoms.

  • Mike Tan

    @Dexter
    Your posts are constructively written but I have some issues with it
    #1 your links on defense of Galileo and the church turns me off because its just linked to a http://www.catholic.com website in which the facts can be skewed to favor the website (in this case the catholics)

    #2 contraception is an “intrinsic evil” is only through your eyes. whatever act couples do is their own business. Why the church is trying to prevent the masses from this options is my problem. What we have here is one group of people trying to limit the options of the majority. Even with the bests of interest at heart, let the majority decide for themselves. (in the church’s case- if they want to burn in hell or not)

  • Dexter Amoroso

    The teaching of the Church is everything taught by infallible Sacred Tradition and everything taught by infallible Sacred Scripture. The Magisterium teaches from Tradition and Scripture.

    The Magisterium teaches infallibly in three ways:

    1. papal infallibility
    2. Ecumenical Councils and similar gatherings
    3. the ordinary and universal Magisterium

    Otherwise, all other teachings of the Magisterium are non-infallible and are subject to the possibility of occasional error and correction.

    The ordinary Magisterium teaches non-infallible. However, when a teaching has been taught under the ordinary Magisterium for so long and so widely, by the Pope and the Bishop that it has been taught universally, then that teaching falls under the ordinary and universal Magisterium and is infallible.

    The Magisterium has not yet given an infallible definition of the criteria for a teaching to fall under the ordinary and universal Magisterium (as it has done for papal infallibility). It is a matter of some debate as to which teachings fall under this type of infallibility.

    In my theological opinion, the teaching against artificial birth control has been taught universally and so is infallible, even though the papal teaching by itself in Humanae Vitae is not infallible under papal infallibility.

    Concerning the possiblity of error in the ordinary non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium, such errors are possible, but they can never reach to the extent of leading us away from the path of salvation, nor can the ordinary teachings of the Magisterium as a whole be mostly in error.

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/MDPD.HTM

    • Jay Salazar

      You are, of course, entitled to your theological opinion, as is everyone, but an opinion has no binding power.

      • Felicity

        The only opinion that has binding power is the Supreme Court’s :p

        • @Felicity LOL! @ only opinion with binding power is Supreme Court

  • Jay Salazar

    Dexter,

    The Code of Canon Law itself proclaims, “No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.” Infallible teachings are based on divine revelation, whereas Humanae Vitae explicitly acknowledges that it is based on natural law.

  • Dexter Amoroso

    The prohibition on contraception is ongoing and unchanging teaching of the church, based on the natural moral law. It is, therefore, infallible.

  • Jay Salazar

    Dexter,

    The official Church stand on artificial birth control is not an infallible teaching, and therefore individual Catholics are allowed to exercise their right to dissent.

  • Dexter Amoroso

    Cocoy,

    Contraception is an “intrinsic evil” thus shouldn’t be an option. Family planning by spouses taking under consideration all the resources at their disposal and their personal, family and community needs is perfectly acceptable. NFP is in no way a contraceptive act. The act remains pure, natural and marital. A sexual act using contraception is not pure natural or marital.

    The church teaching is clear, and if people choose not to follow it….. (shrug)

  • Hi Dexter…

    Actually, that was one of my points that Religion and Science do get along.
    As for population and development as we’ve pointed out in the piece, there is some correlation with population and development. That said, we’re not saying that that is the only cause— we firmly believe corruption is too.

    Re: teen pregnancy etc.

    See, that was what i was getting at with discussing humane vitae and mentioning the work of the late Pope John Paul II. What’s to stop the church from setting up counseling stations? in fact, the presence and absence of condoms and contraceptives is beside the point. The church needs to do it whether or not there is a law for or against condoms. that’s one of the jobs of the Church— instil morality. Condoms don’t make people more nor less moral. It doesn’t make you cheat on your wife or your girlfriend. Heck, that’s happening now. Faith helps in making people good. Ethics help shape people. Morality we learn from our parents and our surroundings and from society govern that. So if the church is afraid that more people will be immoral, then it has to step up and I argue that it has to step up with or without a law.

    RH bill does not prevent the Church from telling its flock— choose natural family planning. The state does not say, “do not choose natural planning.”

    The question is— Is the Church doing its job?

  • Dexter Amoroso

    You mentioned that Church banned Galileo Galilei’s works, but that incident is not really understood by most people. What Gallileo was condemned for was his theological conclusions based on “insufficient” scientific evidence at the time – not that he had to be wrong because scripture somehow conflicted with the idea that the Earth goes around the Sun. The idea that Gallileo was punished for his scientific theory *alone* is a very very common misconception, a twisting of the truth usually pushed by atheist scientists in a false attempt to show that the Church is against what is objectively true (and hence the Church is false).

    However, that’s not quite right. It’s too long for me to describe here, but here’s the full story in these links.

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Galileo_Controversy.asp
    http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2003/0305sbs.asp
    http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2009/0907tbt.asp

    Hope that helps.

    The relationship between science and the Church is actually MUCH better than most people think – not only today, but also in the past.

    Regarding contraception, I think you are really giving contraception too much credit to solve the problems. There are not too many people in this country. It’s the corruption preventing resources being available to help the poor.

    I also think that widespread availability of ABC methods will lead the Philippines to the same problems rampant in other countries (e.g. USA). Infidelity, Teen Pregnancy and eventually widespread abortion.