Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yet still more discussions...

Yet still more discussions...
(reposted with the author's permission. originally posted here)

The Philippine Daily Inquirer last Thursday came out with a front page story that detailed the life of a poor woman and her husband struggling to raise their eight children in poverty. I'm not linking the article here because I believe it's one of the worst the Inquirer has ever done, and it puts their motto, "balance news..." in jeopardy. I didn't take up journalism but I recognize a title seeping in bias when I read one. And on the front page with a miserable photo, too.

The reason I brought this up is that it was the core of a discussion my mother and I had that day; she thinking that in cases such as those, the RH bill should be beneficial, and I--very inarticulately--insisting that that woman does not need a freebie ligation but help in the form of better livelihood and education. I learned one thing from Mama that day, too; I learned that for some people, the RH measure is acceptable because it is hard to believe that the poor will ever change.

One of the things we can easily forget is that a person is a person no matter how much he makes, where he lives, how many limbs he's got, or in what stage of life he is. He has a heart, he has a mind, and if you're Christian, you know he is a child of God, therefore that he possesses the same dignity as any of the "better" folks out there.

No one, not even a poor person struggling to raise eight children, deserves to be neutered/spayed, because that is only done to cats and dogs. You do that to cats and dogs because if you don't they just multiply and get galis and spread diseases. People are not like that. People are better than that. We people can be taught, and we have a will, and besides, all of us at some point in our genealogy, were once dirt poor, too.

RH is not a solution to help people in poverty. It is a license to solve poverty by eliminating the poor. Not convinced?

FVR: “I think the philosophy of RH bill is that we must learn to produce quality people in this world instead of producing people who only end up as, say, beggars on the streets, scavengers, or sellers of cheap or prohibited items. This, I think, is the real valid argument in favor of the RH bill.” (May 18, 2011, PDI

Makes you wonder what "quality people" are.


BTW, my mom is neither for nor against the bill. And I love her! She is made of win.

Friday, May 27, 2011

DOCTRINAL NOTE on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life (excerpts)

on some questions regarding
The Participation of Catholics in Political Life

..A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defence of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law. Furthermore, it is not unusual to hear the opinion expressed in the public sphere that such ethical pluralism is the very condition for democracy. As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends,as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value. At the same time, the value of tolerance is disingenuously invoked when a large number of citizens, Catholics among them, are asked not to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good. The history of the twentieth century demonstrates that those citizens were right who recognized the falsehood of relativism, and with it, the notion that there is no moral law rooted in the nature of the human person, which must govern our understanding of man, the common good and the state.
...It is, however, the Church’s right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law.If Christians must «recognize the legitimacy of differing points of view about the organization of worldly affairs«,they are also called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism. Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society.
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo....The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights....
The appeal often made to «the rightful autonomy of the participation of lay Catholics» in politics needs to be clarified. Promoting the common good of society, according to one’s conscience, has nothing to do with «confessionalism» or religious intolerance. For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church – but not from that of morality – is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church and belongs to inheritance of contemporary civilization.
[and I think Fr. Julio Penacoba echoes that last paragraph -- very well - WillyJ]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Who said Pacquiao lost that match?

Pacquiao, Lagman spar on RH bill

Pacquiao ‘trying hard’ to spar with Lagman on RH

Manny Pacquiao clueless on RH bill

When Congressman Manny Pacquiao took the floor last week to interpellate Congressman Lagman on the RH bill, many people tuned to it like a boxing match. From the newspaper accounts, it looks like the neophyte gentleman from Saranggani took a beating from the more seasoned gentleman from Albay. Various sectors belittled the performance of Cong. Pacquiao, however it was evident that most of the spectators were judging form over substance and failed to see the telling blows that landed. As in any boxing match however, a knockout punch wins the match. Manny went the full 10 rounds, and unfortunately most of his critics didn't stay to watch the fateful round. There, Manny unleashed a powerful combination. The bell rings.

One has got to see the blow-by-blow account of this later round, and thereupon decide whose face got badly bruised in the end.

REP. PACQUIAO. At, Mr. Speaker, gusto ko lang linawin na kasasabi mo lang na tinanggal na iyong penalty, e wala pa po tayo sa amendment period.

REP. LAGMAN. Kaya nga ho...

REP. PACQUIAO. Wala pa po tayo sa amendment e nasabi mo na na tinanggal na iyong penalty.

REP. LAGMAN. Kaya nga ho iyong mga authors mismo ay voluntarily nag-submit ng amendments sa Committee on Population and Family Relations. Pagdating po ng period of amendments, whether committee amendments or individual amendments, palagay ko committee amendments, meron pong undertaking ang komiti ba na itong mga provisions na ito, lima po lahat iyan, ay hindi na isasama sa panukala.

REP. PACQUIAO. Mr. Speaker, gusto ko pong malaman kung ito ba ay na-amend na although nag-submit iyong mga ibang Congressmen natin. Gusto kong malaman kung na—at anong rule po ang ginamit dito.

REP. LAGMAN. Iyan ho ay technically ho talagang tama ho kayo ay hindi pa amended iyan. Ngunit ho iyong...

REP. PACQUIAO. So, hindi pa po natanggal. So, ang salitang “natanggal”, wala na iyon?

REP. LAGMAN. Sa ngayon ho hindi pa natatanggal iyan sapagakat hindi pa tayo umaabot sa period of amendments. Pero pagdating niyan, akseptado na po ito ng Chairman ng Ccommittee on Population and Family Relations kaya itaga mo ho sa bato, pagdating ng committee amendments, iyan po ay mawawala.

REP. PACQUIAO. So, Mr. Speaker, inamin mo na hindi pa talaga natanggal iyong sinasabi mong dapat tanggalin, e iyon lang ang gusto kong malaman at hindi pa na-amend. So, maraming salamat, Mr. Speaker, at iyon lang ang aking mga katanungan.
Thank you.

REP. LAGMAN. Maraming salamat din, Honorable Pacquiao.

Post Mortem:

Boxing champ Pacquiao uncovers Lagman's misleading claims of amended provisions

Pacman KO's Lagman

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A wobbly stand

My stand on the RH Bill
By Fr Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ

[read the full article here]

Wherein Fr. Bernas says:

"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.
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."
Fr Bernas' seventh and tenth point, taken together, points to an unmistakable conclusion:

Public money may not be spent by the government for the promotion of contraceptives that harm sacred life at any point after fertilization.

This conclusion can be taken from a strictly legal and secular standpoint as it stands on a purely scientific and constitutional grounds. It is therefore a mystery why a lot of equivocation is brought out by the eminent Constitutionalist Fr Bernas in this particular column. All his other points are unnecessary and tangential to this main issue. The RH bill's essence as far as its main sponsor Congressman Lagman admits to, is all about "access to contraceptives".

Thus, if we follow Fr Bernas' arguments in his 7th and 10th points correctly, the only logical conclusion we can make is that the RH bill cannot be licitly passed without violating the Constitution. I wonder why he did not spell out that conclusion himself.
As to the theology aspect of Fr Bernas’ article, here are some comments from an Opus Dei priest, Fr. Julio Penacoba:

I will limit myself to the issue of the Bill promoting contraception. This is presented mostly in points First and Second of Fr Bernas article.

As I understand it, Fr Bernas attempts to explain why it would be possible to accept the teachings of the Church (that says that contraception is wrong) and yet to support the RH Bill that promotes contraception.

His line of argument may be put like this: The rules of the Church apply to Catholics but should not be imposed on others.In my understanding that line of argument is very valid for religious issues that is, for matters related to faith and worship. For example, the Church has rules coming from his worship such as the obligation of attending Sunday Mass, or the prohibition of eating meat on Ash Wednesday, or the obligation to follow canon law provisions regarding marriage. The Church should not demand that the State impose those obligations to non Catholics.

However, Fr Bernas line of argument is not applicable on ethical issues. On those matters, the Church does not have ethical rules for Catholics only but declarations of the ethical values inherent to the dignity of any human person. Thus, when the Church speaks against corruption, bigamy or drunkenness she is not stating rules for Catholics only. Neither is she imposing limitations on the goods of others. She is simply offering a moral evaluation of certain behaviors for all men of good will who mind the dignity of the whole person including his ethical dignity.

In my perception, Fr Bernas position seems to treat contraception as it were a religious issue (a Church’s rule) rather than an ethical issue. For example, the first quotation that he cites in his Second point (Compendium of Social Doctrine, n.423) belongs to the section entitled Religious Freedom and not about morality or ethical issues. Any intelligent reader can see that it is talking of rights and privileges on the area of practicing ones religion --clearly not applicable to ethical issues. Regarding the second quotation from the same Compendium (n. 169); it belongs to a discussion on how the State should seek the effective good of all and not only of the majority but of the minorities as well. To apply that text to the discussion on contraception would assume that everybody agrees that contraception is an ethical good and therefore it should be given not only to the majority but to the minorities as well.

Since both quotes are from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, may I quote now from the section (n.234) where that document refers directly to the debate going on.

All programmes of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned as affronts to the dignity of the person and the family. The answer to questions connected with population growth must instead by sought in simultaneous respect both of sexual morals and of social ethics, promoting greater justice and authentic solidarity so that dignity is given to life in all circumstances, starting with economic, social and cultural conditions. [[italics in the original, the emphasis is mine]]


[related post here]

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pangangailangan ng mga Kababaihan

Authored by Prof. Aliza Racelis. Reposting with permission.

MORAL na Kamalayan

Ang isinusulong namin sa grupong ito, at sa maraming pro-life groups, ay ang mga kabutihang-asal – tulad ng pagiging TAPAT ng mag-asawa, chastity education, pagtitimpi, pagsasakripisyo, atbp.– sapagka’t ito ang pangmatagalang solusyon sa tinatawag na “unwanted pregnancies” na laging bukang-bibig ng mga pro-R.H.Bill.

Nakasaad sa isang artikulo ng Philippine Population Review:

“…women who had unintended pregnancies or births were older, not living together with a partner, had no previous birth or had a closely-spaced birth interval, had both sons and daughters, rural residents, not well educated and poor. Moreover, these women were ever-users of contraceptives, had three or more living children and whose ideal number of children was lesser than what they actually had.”

Pagmasdan ang mga kataingan ng mga may “unintended pregnancies” – gumagamit ng kontraseptibo, wala sa nararapat na kalagayan ng nakikipagtalik –may lehitimong asawa at TAPAT sa asawa at sa asawa lamang kikilos ng ganito… [Sa mga single, ang chastity ay pag-iwas sa anumang aktibidad sekswal.]

[read the rest here]

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pacquiao KO's Lagman

Boxing champ Pacquiao uncovers Lagman's misleading claims of amended provisions

h/t I.A.F of FilipinosForLife

This amendment issue stinks. 1st) it is not in order as the rules stipulate that amendments are taken up only after the interpellations; 2nd) We are not aware of any waiver of rules to this effect; 3rd) If indeed there as a waiver or even granting it was not necessary, then the amended bill should have been properly distributed to all the congressmen and given due time for further study; 4th) if the amendments are unofficial, the pro-RH legislators have no business disseminating unofficial versions of the bill; 5th) it is totally insidious of these pro-RH legislators (starting with Lagman) to rebut arguments of interpellators on the basis of spurious amendments tainted by irregularities.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

EUGENICS: The Philosophy of the RH Bill

FVR to PacMan

FVR: “I think the philosophy of RH bill is that we must learn to produce quality people in this world instead of producing people who only end up as, say, beggars on the streets, scavengers, or sellers of cheap or prohibited items. This, I think, is the real valid argument in favor of the RH bill,” he added.
What an incredible, appalling admission. EUGENICS in other words. Now we are assured that Sanger's and Hitler's philosophy is rooted in the RH bill.

Two interpretations of: "The State shall protect the life of the unborn from conception"

Two interpretations of: "The State shall protect the life of the unborn from conception"

(In other words: we must protect ourselves from twisted interpretations)

Chemical contraceptives are known to inhibit implantation of the fertilized ovum (in other words they are abortifacients) and I have never found an OC manufacturer's statement that officially and categorically denies the fact. With this in mind, I have often wondered how the pro-RH bill advocates can reconcile the bill's proposal for state promotion of contraceptives with the fundamental law of the land. The pertinent provision in the Philippine Constitution's Article II, Section 12, is as follows:

"...The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception."

Therefore the prolife objection is based on a clear premise: Considering the state is bound to protect the life of the unborn from conception, it follows that it cannot licitly enact laws that require it to promote abortifacients, whose harmful actions occur after conception (the moment egg and sperm meet) and prior to implantation (the moment the fertilized ovum attaches to the womb) and afterwards. We understand that the term conception is equivalent to fertilization. However, the RH bill legislators seem to have conjured a way out of this constitutional bind, or so as they want to make it appear. They claim that "conception" - as it was framed by the Constitution - means implantation, not fertilization. Now I am not a lawyer, although some legal principles should be common knowledge enough. (and common sense enough if I may add)

I have come across an articulate pro-RH bill proponent in one of the online forums which I occasionally visit, and we come up with an interesting exchange which appears to frame the debate for both contending sides. I copy portions of that exchange here. His comments come first and are italicized in blue, while my following comments are italicized in red.

The constitution does not define the meaning of conception. It is not there. People can argue about intent of the framers, who were unelected and unrepresentative of the diversity of Philippine society. There was an attempt to specifically include in the constitution "The right to life extends to the fertilized ovum." However, the proposal did not materialize, and its non-adoption "unmistakably shows that the concept that life begins at fertilization was not constitutionalized for lack of concurrence from the commissioners."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that asserts that -conception is the implantation of the blastocyst (the egg several days after fertilization). It is not synonymous with fertilization.

The statement that "any constitutionalist will tell you that the intent of the law prevails" is false. In the US where the constitution is considered a living document, there are Originalists, Instrumentalists, Literalist and Democrats. The Literalists (both Historical and Modern) insist on an interpretation not coloured by the intent of the framers.
Interpretation of constitutions is not a uniquely American past time. In the Philippines, we have our version of Originalists and Literalists, the difference being one can be in either camp depending on the situation. Everything is negotiable here. Even the opinion of esteemed bodies such as the PMA is subject to the weather of the day.

If you can show me the place where the Constitution defines conception as "fertilization", I will gladly accept your statement. You and I know there is no such definition in the Constitution.

The Constitution is the constitution, not the record of deliberations. The people who voted for its ratification were not voting on the contents of deliberations but on the Constitution itself.

Again: the Constitutional commission did not adopt the proposal to include the "fetilization". Its non-adoption "unmistakably shows that the concept that life begins at fertilization was not constitutionalized for lack of concurrence from the commissioners."

When does human life begin? For the science part as far as is relevant to the Philippine context, the Philippine Medical Association has already spoken out: Human life begins at fertilization. The Constitution on the other hand, said that the life of the unborn must be equally protected at the moment of conception...

We must understand that statutes flow from fundamental law and not vice-versa. That is the purpose why we have a Constitution in the first place. Laws can only be licitly legislated if they are in accord with the fundamental law of the land. We are an independent country. We are under no compulsion to adhere to other nations notions. Between the Philippine Medical Association and the American COG, we give more credence to our local authorities/ resource organization. And between the American Consitution and ours, ours prevail for our own laws - anytime.

The claim that the constitution does not define conception is not supported by the evidence on record. I acknowledge convoluted positions on this, but I would rather take the cue from Dr Bernie Villegas, a member of the Constitutional Commission who was actually the sponsor of the said provision. He said: "conception is defined as fertilization, the moment the egg is fertilized by the sperm. This was the majority decision (32 to 8) of the members of the Constitutional Commission".

As for the records:

“it is when the ovum is fertilized by the sperm that there is human life. Just to repeat: first, there is obviously life because it starts to nourish itself, it starts to grow as any living being, and it is human because at the moment of fertilization, the chromosomes that combined in the fertilized ovum are the chromosomes that are uniquely found in human beings and are not found in any other living being”

(Record of the Constitutional Commission, Volume 4, p. 668).

"The intention is to protect life from its beginning, and the assumption is that human life begins at conception, that conception takes place at fertilization"

(Record of the Constitutional Commission 799, cited in Bernas, J., The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Manila: 1996 ed., p. 78)

As I said the intent of the law prevails over the letter of the law, and I can cite not a few SC jurisprudence that affirms the legal doctrine, and of course they are easy enough to research anyway. The constitution should not be treated as a dictionary looking for precise terms and definitions, otherwise there is no need for Supreme Court, constitutional experts and interpreters. Now we may or may not like the constitution the way it is, but it is a given. It is of course changeable, as all man-made laws are. But as long as it is in its present form and substance, we have to abide by it especially with respect to crafting statutes.
In other words anyone can call a dog a cow many times over, but still it won't turn the dog into a cow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On ensoulment and specious arguments

At the recent RH bill debate aired by ABS CBN/ ANC last May 8, a certain Dr Sylvia Claudio from the pro-RH bill panel curiously argued on the inconsistency of the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion. She claimed that both Thomas Aquinas and Pope Gregory IX actually maintained that ensoulment took place at a later stage of the foetus, and thus abortion is permissible prior to that point as the being has not yet assumed a status of a human (somehow implying that ensoulment grants the status of being human).

Aside from the fact that science has not yet discovered the elementary aspects of embryology in the 12th century (yes 12th century and yes, Catholics do assert that science and reason are compatible with the faith), it is disingenuous for Dr Claudio (an agnostic by the way, who does not even believe in the existence of souls) to argue on the basis of ensoulment when the pro-RH side insists that religious views do not have any place in the deliberations on the RH bill. Talk about inconsistency.

At any rate, Fr Melvin Castro of CBCP responded by saying that when we talk of Church teaching, we talk about official declarations of a Magisterial nature. Certainly, although I doubt Dr Claudio - who claims she studied Catholic doctrine deeply - grasps the concept. Fr Castro went on to say that everyone knows Pope John Paul II, right? and proceeded to state key teachings on the sacredness of life in all its stages from Evangelium Vitae. Now that's Magisterium for you, in other words OFFICIAL CHURCH TEACHING. I had to capitalize that one, just in case agnostics can not follow as well.

This talk about ensoulment triggered a small discussion in our online prolife circle. This post comprises some of my own personal inputs.

When we talk about the Magisterium, it is a basic approach to reference as a primary source none other than the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On the subject of ensoulment, this is the closest passage I have come across:

"2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being".

No specific mention of ensoulment, yet is explicit in saying that it must be treated as a person at the moment of conception. Now, personhood in Catholic theology considers a human being as animated by a spiritual soul while the same Catechism asserts that "the human person, made in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual" (362) . A simple question should follow: Is a person granted ensoulment - even at its moment of conception? My considered thought is yes, although one can argue that treating a fertilized ovum as a person can be distinct from acknowledging that indeed ensoulment has taken place at the moment of conception. I wish the Magisterium was more explicit, as CDF's Donum Vitae stated in 1987 that "The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature [of ensoulment at conception] but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion". Note however that the revised CCC which is more emphatic, was released in 1992 - five years after Donum Vitae.

I am convinced that in spite of the absence of explicit Magisterial pronouncements declaring ensoulment at the point of conception, the weight of Scriptures along with the Church's pronouncements on personhood and sacredness of life from the moment of conception points to an inexorable commitment towards the declaration of ensoulment at the point of conception. I believe there is no essential need for a further solemn declaration to this effect, for it is already an absolute certainty: Life is sacred in all its stages.

Anyway as I have mentioned earlier, it is disingenuous for the pro RH-bill panel to bring up the matter of ensoulment in the debates on the RH bill. As if ensoulment should be a factor that must figure in the deliberations in the proceedings, especially when the same pro side says religious bias should not be factor at all - as a democracy must embrace all religions. It is clear that Claudio just wants to attack the Catholic Church with her argument, as her issue does not have any bearing at all to factors that will weigh in legislative deliberations.

Finally here are some reactions from a priest (Fr JJ), whom we respect a lot.

Evangelium Vitae #60 of JPII says that the Church cannot be certain as to the SCIENTIFIC and EMPIRICAL moment of ensoulment as it is scientifically impossible to ascertain, because the soul is a spiritual reality. But the Church is philosophically and theologically certain that the soul begins to inhere at the moment of conception. At the very least, empirically speaking, "even the mere probability" that the soul is already present absolutely prohibits interventions that could kill the human person.
That's the irony, even atheist and materialist who don't even believe in the existence of a soul goes to the ensoulment argument to justify abortion. At the minimum level, we don't have a right to kill a person just because he has a soul. I don't have a right to kill you not because you have a soul, which even in adults is unverifiable empirically anyway. This remains a philosophical/theological/religious claim. I cannot kill you because you have life and I am not the author of life. The same minimum respect for life should be given to the newly formed and developing person who undeniably has life at the moment of conception.
So there.

Later on, Dr Claudio said something to the effect that the Catholic Church should respect the diversity of beliefs in the country. On that point she is right, although it goes without saying that one must understand those beliefs first. On the other hand that's not quite right either. One is perhaps permitted not to understand, but one must NOT go on attack mode while pretending to understand.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A war (?) of religions

A war of religions(?)
[and my comments]

A war of religions
By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted 05/02/2011

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 Cristo, 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 various issues 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.

[I don't approve of the word "bad" Catholics either. It is too negative and judgmental upon the person. I would rather use the term "dissenting" Catholics, which more objectively defines the action. However, dissenting Catholics would generally fall into two categories, one who dissents out of lack of catechetical formation, and one who dissents willfully, with full knowledge and consent. I would leave it to the readers if the last category of Catholics means "bad".]

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 cords, 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 marketplace.

[I never heard of that sermon of the priest "who told those who accept the RH Bill to leave the church". It is probably worthwhile to appreciate the sermon in its entirety, and understand the message in its whole context. I am note sure if the priest in question likened Catholic pro-RH supporters to money changers at the temple. For one thing, the money changers displeased Jesus. On the other hand I wonder if pro-RH Catholics do not displease Jesus for disobeying His Church.]

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 slunk away.

[I always hear of this passage whenever talk about tolerance occurs in religious circles. I notice time and again that the last statement of Jesus in that story is almost always left out: Go and sin no more.]

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.

[Right. But what exactly do you teach them, Father? Rather, what understanding to they internalize and how do they act upon it after imbibing your teachings? How many of your students come out of your classes convinced or otherwise that the RH bill should be opposed?]

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 has been 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.

[Father, the allowance of contraceptive methods that are "in general safe and legal"? The deletions and rewordings does not give us any comfort. It is not any secret that the pro-RH legislators have insisted on their own definition of what is "safe and legal". For example, it is common knowledge that they insist that life starts at implantation, not at fertilization that science as well as the Catholic doctrine asserts unequivocally. The core issue of the Church's disagreement with the RH bill stays, even with the amendments.]

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)

[The Catholic Church have not yielded the absolute truths contained in Divine revelation as well as Holy tradition. The reason is straightforward: the Church does not reverse the truth nor does it have the power to do so. Its mission in the temporal sphere is to reveal the truth and propagate it. This does not mean we can not or should not collaborate with people of good will from all walks of faith in the pursuit of common good. In doing so, the Church does not and should not coerce. Father is right there, but perhaps he focuses too much on the latter in his comments on Dignitatis Humanae. While Fr Bernas excerpted select passages to make his point come across, I am afraid he does not do justice to the entire document. The same doctrinal declaration also states: (emphasis mine)

"The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it, never-be it understood- having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, the charity of Christ urges him to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith. All is to be taken into account - the Christian duty to Christ, the life-giving word which must be proclaimed, the rights of the human person, and the measure of grace granted by God through Christ to men who are invited freely to accept and profess the faith.".

NOTE: "never-be it understood- having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel". In other words the principle of religious tolerance does not mean that we surrender our faith. "All is to be taken account". I trust Fr Bernas did not intend to convey otherwise, but his article may be read to imply that we surrender our faith. He is a widely-read constitutionalist, a popular columnist in a popular newspaper, and most of all: a priest. I foresee the pro-RH side gleefully pouncing on Fr Bernas' article to attack the anti-RH side. I foresee the anti-RH Catholics do double-time in their defense of the Catholic position. I fear that the flames of the 'religious war' (assuming there is one), may further be fanned contrary to the good Father's intentions. Lastly, for the faithful and casual reader, it might spell a disaster in pastoral care.]

Sunday, May 1, 2011

John Paul II and the Truth About the Human Person

John Paul II and the Truth about the Human Person

by Fr. Joel O. Jason, SThL

(On the occasion of Pope John Paul II's Beatification on May 1, 2011, let's get to know a little about the man. This essay is a revised version of the author’s contribution to the John Paul II Commemorative Issue of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC) periodical Info on Human Development, March-May 2005 issue.)

Pope John Paul II passed on to the house of the Father on the evening of April 2, 2005, liturgically a Second Sunday of Easter, which he dedicated during his papacy to be Divine Mercy Sunday. May 1, 2011, happens to be also the Second Sunday of Easter, the Feast of the Divine Mercy and on that day John Paul II will be beatified as Blessed John Paul II, a step away from being canonized as Saint of the Catholic Church.

While the sea of humanity that gathered at St. Peter’s for his funeral clamored “santo subito!” (sainthood now!), and the multitudes all over the world now cannot refer to him without calling him “Il Grande” (the great), critics on the other hand view John Paul II as “naïve” and his papacy “a great disappointment” mostly for his stand on feminist concerns, contraception, and human freedom among others. As the world prepares for his beatification on May 1, it is opportune to ask once again what did John Paul really teach on these issues?

John Paul II and genuine freedom

Reflecting on the biblical imagery prohibiting partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “You are free to eat from any of the trees…except the tree of knowledge of good and bad” (Gen 2:16-17), John Paul teaches in Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) that it is not because God does not want us to know what is good and what is bad. It is symbolic language, the biblical way of telling us that it is not for man to decide what is good and what is bad. To decide what is good and what is bad is God’s alone, “ …the power to decide what is good and evil does not belong to man, but to God alone.” (Veritatis Splendor 35) That was temptation of the serpent, “ the moment you eat you shall be like Gods…” (Gen 3:5) The first man and woman were indeed imago Dei, - image of God, but they fell into the seduction of wanting to be image of God apart from God and not with God. Eve, and later Adam fell into that temptation. And so began the entry of sin in history, and the distortion of human freedom.

Goodness is based on the truth and truth is objective. Man does not and cannot invent the truth. Man only discovers the truth and must cling to that truth as revealed in Scriptures (Divine Law), and in rational reflection on human nature (natural law). In that truth we become free. What if for example, lawmakers decide to vote and ignore the law of gravity. What if the president signs it into a law and then they celebrate their victory by jumping off the roof of Malacañang. Will they be able to break the law of gravity? Obviously not. The only thing that they will break is their bones. Sir Isaac Newton did not invent the law of gravity. He merely discovered the law of gravity, a law that is objective, a law that we obey, a law that makes us truly free.

For John Paul II, freedom for man is counterfeit if it is understood as the power to do what I like, regardless of its consequence on myself and others. Freedom however becomes liberating when understood as the power to choose what I ought, to do what is good. Counterfeit freedom is based on personal likes and dislikes. Genuine freedom is founded on the truth. To illustrate, false freedom tells me to beat the law of the red light in traffic. In the process, I harm or kill myself and others. Genuine freedom prompts me to embrace that law and to choose to stop. Then I become more free, because it keeps me alive and others as well.

John Paul II sees the pro-choice philosophy as founded on the same serpentine seduction. I choose abortion because this is what I like, regardless of what that choice will mean for the rights of another living person, regardless of the truth of the existence of another person over whose life I have no sovereignty. Counterfeit freedom is actually the product of our confusing freedom with license – which is the power to do what I like. (Wonder why people issued with a drivers’ license behave the way they do in the streets? Maybe it’s time to call it drivers’ freedom) And license is a sin specifically condemned in Scriptures “…from within people…come evil thoughts…licentiousness, envy, blasphemy…” (Mark 7:21-22). Freedom cannot be achieved apart from the law.

With insightful distinction, John Paul proposes that genuine freedom is not anomy ( a- without; nomoslaw) or the absence of law. Genuine freedom is actually autonomy (autosself; nomos - law) or the integration of the law within one’s self. But more precisely, in the Christian point of view, genuine freedom is a participated theonomy (theosGod; nomoslaw ), i.e., a participation in God’s law. John Paul summarizes this point in Veritatis Splendor 41 saying, “ Genuine moral autonomy in no way means the rejection but rather the acceptance of the moral law, of God’s command…of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man’s free obedience to God’s law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God’s wisdom and providence.”

John Paul II and genuine feminism

A necessary consequence of John Paul’s teaching on the human person and genuine freedom is the affirmation that men and women will experience true fulfillment in discovering and remaining in the truth of who they really are as men and as women. John Paul II proposes that the true liberation of the sexes happens in the discovery of who humanity really is. And that means a re-affirmation and re-appreciation of the truth about their singularity, uniqueness, and complementarity, not necessarily uniformity. Adam expressed his benediction in the discovery of Eve, “this one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen2:23), his proper complement. At last, masculinity has found in femininity its proper fulfillment, and vice versa. This, John Paul II calls “the essence of the gift.” Masculinity can give femininity what it does not have just as femininity can gift masculinity that which it does not have. The difference of the sexes is no accident of nature. Rather, it is the necessary condition which paves the way for the man and woman to establish a communio personarum ( communion of persons), the sacrament on earth of the communion of Persons that exists in the very life of the Trinity. This is important in a world that sees the sexual differences as irrelevant and accidental and proposes gender equality as uniformity.

In Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women) John Paul warns against the seduction that deceives women into thinking that it is only outside of marriage, maternity and the family that they can find fulfillment and the satisfaction of their legitimate longings for equality. Indeed, there are evident patriarchal biases in society that compromise the rights of women and their dignity. But it will not be solved simply by turning the wheels of imbalance in favor of women, or of pitting women against men. Then, the same cycle of deprived wholeness, and therefore deprived holiness, is perpetuated.

One letter to the editor in a broadsheet newspaper criticized John Paul II for canonizing saint, a modern-day woman who chose that should complications arise, her child be allowed to live instead of her. It was not specific but she must be referring to Gianna Beretta Molla who was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 24, 1994, during the international Year of the Family. The letter asked, “What signal did it send? That it was alright to die and leave other children behind?” No. The signal it sends is “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child in her womb?” (Isaiah 49:15) The woman was canonized not because one life is better than the other. She was canonized because the signal her life sends is “ No greater love a man can have, than to lay his life for a friend.” (John 15:13) John Paul canonized that modern-day woman because motherhood is the first school where we learn these values. And some misguided feminist philosophies are robbing motherhood of its nobility.

Another developing trend nowadays is women who want children apart from a husband or marriage. Thus, the proliferation of in vitro ( in a petri dish) fertility clinics and womb-for-hire practices. Ironically, this feminist mentality all the more objectifies the women hired as surrogates. They are only as good instrumentally as their womb or their ova. Sadly, the children too are objectified. John Paul in Familiaris Consortio reminds us that children are gifts of the marital covenant. They are not properties we can have at our whim. As gifts, the first inherent right children deserve is to be nurtured in the context of a family and the paternal and maternal presence it provides. Truly, it is unfortunate that there are single parent families. We do not fault these single parents for they are not necessarily to be blamed. But to subject children purposely into such situation by our whims would be grossly irresponsible and selfish on the part of us adults.

John Paul also taught eloquently about the human body and the respect it commands. His “theology of the body” is the core of his teachings on sexual responsibility, purity, and chastity. We hear it often said, “If you have it, flaunt it” for even Sacred Scripture affirms in Genesis 2:25 that “the man and his wife were both naked yet they felt no shame.” But this is a gross misreading of the biblical text. For John Paul II, nakedness without shame is not synonymous with shamelessness. Nakedness without shame is the tranquility of the beloved, naked before his loved one because she is confident that her body-person is appreciated in a non-utilitarian way. Some things are hidden or kept private not because it’s ugly. On the contrary, some things are kept private because they are beautiful, too beautiful in fact as to be sacred. This is why couples celebrate the marital act not in parks but in the privacy of their rooms. This is why we feel violated when others invade our “inner sanctums”, the things/persons we hold sacred. Following John Paul II’s line of thought, the malice of pornography and immodesty is not because it reveals too much. On the contrary, it reveals too little of the human person. It restricts and arrests the interest we have on the another person only in his/her sexual attractiveness. It reduces the human body (most of the time, the female body) to a commodity and an object of pleasure. The true liberation of women lies in the rejection of this profound lie, something which contemporary culture has brainwashed ourselves into believing.

A recent editorial also blamed John Paul II’s teaching on contraception as the reason for the poverty in the world. Such a statement betrays a great misunderstanding of the issue. Some clarifications are in order. John Paul, nor the Church has never taught that couples should have as many children as they could. Couples are only to raise children that they could reasonably look after and provide for. The Church does not even teach that each act of marital intercourse should always result in a child because it does not. The woman is a largely “infertile” person. She is technically fertile only a few days in a month. The natural periods of female infertility point to this. What John Paul II (in Love and Resposibility and Familiaris Consortio ) and the Church teach is that each act of marital intercourse should remain open to the possibility of parenthood. This openness couples manifest when they do not resort to acts or methods (contraception) that have as its intent that no life shall be conceived from this particular act of intercourse.

In the mind of John Paul, contraception is morally problematic not because it is artificial. There are many things that are artificial that the Church finds no problem with, like artificial limbs, the use of pacemakers for those with heart problems and the like. Rather, contraception (whether chemical like contraceptives or surgical like ligation and vasectomy) is morally problematic because it is contraceptive – i.e., against life - it aims to damage the ability of the couples to conceive and prevents life from being conceived. It does not treat fertility as a good but rather as a curse to be avoided. Natural family planning or NFP (specifically the Billings Ovulation method and Symptho-Thermal Method) is essentially different. It is morally acceptable not because it is natural or not “artificial”, but because it is not contraceptive. While the intention may be not to conceive for the moment or indefinitely, in NFP, fertility and the ability of the couples to conceive is not destroyed and compromised because the couples simply appreciate the natural fertility/infertility cycles of the woman, the way God intended her to be. With a 99.5% accuracy, it is unarguably more scientific, accurate, physiologically and psychologically healthy than the so called “modern family planning” methods championed by the RH bill proponents. How could it not be? God designed the human body and NFP simply tunes in to the science of that design. Couples simply behave accordingly in tune with that design.

In NFP, no such life is destroyed or prevented from coming to be. It is simply sex in its most natural beauty, with its natural period of fertility and infertility, the way God intended it to be. For women, this is genuine CHOICE, empowerment and real control over their body. Contraception if at all shows a lack of control. With its high failure rate and inherent medical side effects, it is leaving everything to chance.

Some brand this teaching as “biologism” or “physicalism”. I beg to disagree. What is physicalist is to believe that man and woman is powerless before his physical/sexual urges. NFP tells us otherwise. The only birth control worthy of the human person is self control. Why do we neuter dogs and cats? Because they do not have the ability to say “no.” What then does it say about ourselves when we likewise neuter ourselves chemically or surgically? What is physicalist is to ascribe to a pill and rubber what is properly the realm of human responsibility.

Obviously, this requires discipline and dialogue from couples. Herein lies the beauty of NFP. Responsible parenthood becomes a shared responsibility. Dialogue is promoted and the husband is taught to treat the wife or vice versa, not as a passive property but as a partner. In NFP, the woman is truly respected because we do not dump her body with harmful and potentially fatal chemicals to control her fertility. In NFP, we do not pass on to chemicals something that should be owned by human responsibility and discipline.

The Church of Pope Benedict XVI

While the Cardinals prepared in conclave to choose the next Pope to succeed John Paul II, speculations of whether the next Pope should be “traditional” or “liberal” abounded. Papal biographer George Weigel, when asked how John Paul II will be remembered by history answered succinctly. “ He is the great Christian witness.”

When the Cardinals that gathered in conclave on the 18th of April 2005 chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 264th successor of Peter, I believe traditional or liberal was not the primary in the agenda. What I believe they asked the Holy Spirit for is a man of witness – a witness to the truth about God, love and humanity. In beatifying John Paul II, the man he endearingly refers to as “continuously looking upon us from the window of the Father’s house,” Pope Benedict XVI is embracing the same challenge of being a witness.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!

June 2001 audience with soon Blessed Pope John Paul II