By Raïssa Robles
Joaquin Bernas, a prominent Jesuit lawyer, bristled at being called “Judas” by a fellow cleric over his analysis of the RH (Reproductive Health) bill.
He discussed in brief but blunt fashion how he personally feels about the RH Bill. What he laid out in 11 easy steps could well be used by ordinary Catholics, like you and me, as a guide to appreciating this controversial measure.
The constitutionalist Bernas says:
First, let me start by saying that I adhere to the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception even if I am aware that the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do. Moreover, I am still considered a Catholic and Jesuit in good standing by my superiors, critics notwithstanding!
The Church has long preached that the use of all artificial contraceptives, including condoms and artificial birth control pills, is a sin. Now Bernas has just pointed out that “the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do.” This means, there are senior Church officials who believe artificial contraception is not among those Church doctrines where the Pope cannot err because this is handed down from God. It’s not on the same level as the doctrine on The Holy Trinity or Three-in-One God, for example.
The last sentence – that he’s a Jesuit in good standing – seems to denote that Bernas is not about be censured or made to stop by his immediate superiors.
Bernas then writes:
Second, (very important for me as a student of the Constitution and of church state relations) I am very much aware of the fact that we live in a pluralist society where various religious groups have differing beliefs about the morality of artificial contraception. But freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. Hence, the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief nor may churchmen compel President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief.
This actually goes against what the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) keeps repeating — that President Benigno Aquino, being a Catholic, is obliged – nay, ordered – to pursue policies that CBCP advocates such as the non-use of artificial birth control for family planning.
Bernas then issues his bluntest statement on the issue –
Third, I am dismayed by preachers telling parishioners that support for the RH bill ipso facto is a serious sin or merits excommunication! I find this to be irresponsible.
Bernas is openly contradicting what numerous priests in their Sunday pulpits have been preaching – you commit a mortal sin if you support the RH bill. And of course, if you happen to die without repenting, you go straight to hell.
Bernas even sees merits in the RH bill –
Fourth, I have never held that the RH Bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can.
Que horror! Some elderly parishioners must be saying, as Bernas has totally discarded the all-or-nothing stance of the CBCP hierarchy.
Bernas even recommends a reasonable amendment to the proposed law:
Fifth, specifically I advocate removal of the provision on mandatory sexual education in public schools without the consent of parents. (I assume that those who send their children to Catholic schools accept the program of Catholic schools on the subject.)
My hubby Alan found it interesting that Bernas ranks this as the sixth and not the first or second, considering that this is at the heart of CBCP’s objections to the proposed RH law:
Sixth, I am pleased that the bill reiterates the prohibition of abortion as an assault against the right to life. Abortifacient pills and devises(sic), if there are any in the market, should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. But whether or not there are such is a question of scientific fact of which I am no judge.
The CBCP has categorically stated that any “artificial” device is an abortifacient. Period. But Bernas has now opened a large wiggle room by saying – “But whether or not there are such is a question of scientific fact of which I am no judge.”
The following is the most explosive statement that Bernas makes in his column:
Seventh, I hold that there already is abortion any time a fertilized ovum is expelled. The Constitution commands that the life of the unborn be protected “from conception.” For me this means that sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation.
By saying that life begins “at fertilization”, ordinary Catholics can say the condom is ok as a birth control device, as well as other modern methods that PREVENT fertilization from even taking place.
In the next item, Bernas is prepared to re-examine another section of the RH bill and not simply throw its entirety into the dustbin:
Eight, it has already been pointed out that the obligation of employers with regard to the sexual and reproductive health of employees is already dealt with in the Labor Code. If the provision needs improvement or nuancing, let it be done through an examination of the Labor Code provision.
Next, Bernas openly praises the RH bill:
Ninth, there are many valuable points in the bill’s Declaration of Policy and Guiding Principles which can serve the welfare of the nation and especially of poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service. There are specific provisions which give substance to these good points. They should be saved.
Oh my God, now Bernas talks about the supremacy of the Constitution but says nothing about the Bible:
Tenth, I hold that public money may be spent for the promotion of reproductive health in ways that do not violate the Constitution. Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution.
Finally, at the end, Bernas refuses to be drawn into a decades-old argument that has prevented Philippine presidents from reining in population growth –
Eleventh, I leave the debate on population control to sociologists.
I am speechless. A cleric has just unbound the Filipino Catholic from bowing to Church dogma according to the dictates of the CBCP.
Let the battle resume.