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]

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