Just my opinion
By Raïssa Robles
This is not the best way to spend Christmas – at odds with the Church clergy and told by a Cardinal that supporting a Reproductive Health Law is “unfortunate and tragic.”
I can imagine what priests all over the country will be saying at their pulpits this Sunday. They will castigate the proponents of RH in Congress and lambast supporters. Some will probably consign all of them – I guess that includes me and even Jesuit priest-lawyer Joaquin Bernas – to hell.
These are not happy thoughts for what should be a happy occasion – the commemoration of the birth of Jesus.
And yet, and yet, this time I need to stand my ground. I believe priests are not always right in every way. Sometimes they are wrong. Very wrong.
From our own history, we cannot just gloss over the fact that for centuries the Philippines was held in theocratic thrall through the power of friars. The Philippine Revolution was betrayed by a woman confessing to a priest, who broke the silence of confession and divulged the plot. The oppressive theocracy was one factor that triggered the Revolution, and it was the Spanish friars who worked hard to see Jose Rizal executed. .
We cannot forget the fact that the Church hierarchy supported Marcos’ Martial Law for a while, and later suppressed the Basic Christian Communities. Several prominent bishops propped up the questionable administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for five years, all because she promised to block the approval of an RH Law and she courted clergy’s support like mad.
How can I reconcile my own Catholic faith with my stand on RH?
I stumbled on the answer today in a piece written by social anthropologist Mary Racelis entitled “Vatican II at 50: Laity speak out on RH”.
I decided to read it because her name rang a bell. Mary Racelis (formerly Hollnsteiner) was one of the scholars always writing about the poor and social justice for publications of Ateneo de Manila University during the Marcos dictatorship. She was director of Ateneo’s Institute of Philippine Culture from 1971 to 1977. Her scholarship was recognized by both the Ateneo and De La Salle University with honorary doctorates in Humanities and Social Sciences, respectively.
Racelis noted that the Vatican Council (1962-1965) had issued a “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” which stated that lay Catholics’ “expert attention and study” were crucial in reforming the Church.
The Decree recognized for the first time that priests might not always have the expertise and that lay people had to fill the gap. The Vatican Decree stated:
“With a constantly increasing population, continual progress in science and technology, and closer interpersonal relationships, the areas for the lay apostolate have been immensely widened particularly in fields that have been for the most part open to the laity alone. These factors have also occasioned new problems which demand their expert attention and study… Besides, in many places where priests are very few…the Church could scarcely exist and function without the activity of the laity.”
I am one with Racelis when she wrote that given this Vatican Decree, she found the reaction of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to RH “devastating”.
She claimed that:
“Moving forcefully into areas of lay expertise, like economics, demography, behavioral sciences, medicine, sexuality, gender, law, governance and politics, the CBCP’s pronouncements on these subjects have progressively undermined its credibility as moral arbiter in the domain of reproductive health.”
She added that “not since the Philippine Revolution of 1896 has the Filipino laity challenged the bishops’ authority so openly and overwhelmingly.”
Racelis said, among the criticisms that lay experts have against the CBCP (which consists of 71 bishops) were the following:
The CBCP is out of step with the times;
It clings to outmoded understanding of sex, marriage and family life;
It creates a situation where many poor women find themselves pregnant yet again, feeling they have no option other than abortion to terminate the unwanted pregnancy;
It contributes to the rise in teenage pregnancies by preventing adolescents from obtaining age-appropriate sex education in school;
It violates the separation of church and state by attacking the RH bill in sermons and threatening pro-RH lawmakers with a Catholic backlash in the 2013 elections, and even excommunication.
Contrary to some of the bishops’ pronouncements that supporting RH is a mortal sin, Racelis asserted otherwise, saying:
“…in clear conscience…we must support the RH bill…Our lawmakers can stand confidently with us and the vast majority of the Filipino people by voting “yes.”
The Church “illusion”
The CBCP’s intense lobbying against RH and its lawmaker-backers has effectively divided the House of Representatives.
The bishops, backed by anti-RH Catholic groups, have warned they intend to make pro-RH lawmakers pay on election day.
Should lawmakers buckle because of their warning?
The answer may be found in a paper written much earlier by a senior Catholic scholar – a colleague of Racelis in the same Ateneo university.
José Mario C. Francisco, S.J. said the prelates’ political clout was just an “illusion.”
The priest-scholar, who is now president of Ateneo’s Loyola School of Theology, wrote in his paper entitled “The Dynamics between Catholicism and Philippine Society”:
“First, we need to distinguish between the influence of the Catholic Church and that of Christian stories and symbols. As has been mentioned, Catholicism in terms of the Catholic Church still retains an overwhelming majority, though only thirty percent of Catholics have any regular contact with the Church. Nevertheless, the reach of Christian stories and symbols is far greater, because they have historically shaped Philippine culture to a great extent and politics to a lesser.”
“Because of this wider reach of Christian stories and symbols, the Catholic Church often forgets the limits of its own actual influence. It always points to the 1986 EDSA Revolution as witness. This is of course true in part; but this dramatic social moment came about also in part due to the fact that the Catholic Church provided a relatively safe umbrella for social critique against the Marcos dictatorship, and in part due to the imaginative power of Christian stories and symbols long part of Philippine culture.”
Fr. Francisco claimed there are times when the Church suffers a “memory lapse” during which it wrongly thinks there exists “a practical union of Church and State”:
“Of course, it will not declare this openly, but actions on the part of certain leaders of the Catholic Church speak louder than words; for example, the much publicized visits of presidential candidates to the Archbishop of Manila before elections. This temptation will continue to be strong as long as membership in the Catholic Church constitutes the overwhelming majority.”
He therefore cautioned church leaders:
“But there are reality checks to this illusion on the part of the Catholic Church. There have been three instances when the leaders of the Catholic Church were rebuffed by many in Philippine society—the election of President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada (though the Church veiled its opposition); the execution of prisoner Leo Echagaray (the first after the reinstatement of the death penalty); and the ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. These indicate that Philippine Society is increasingly becoming ‘freed’ from the grip of the Catholic Church, largely as a result of globalization and the pluralism it brings.”
Ummm. No wonder some senior clerics brand Jesuits “renegades”.
It was after I read Racelis and Fr. Francisco that I realized that you and I cannot abandon the Church just because some bishops openly condemn the passage of an RH Law. We need to stay inside the Church in order to help reform it.
Jesuit priest-lawyer Bernas strikes again on side of the Reproductive Health bill