8 REASONS WHY CATHOLICS SUPPORT RH by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago
The Catholic Church Does Not Consider Anti-RH Teaching as Infallible
Theology consists of critical reflection on faith. St. Anselm of Canterbury gave to us the classic definition of theology as: “Faith seeking understanding.” But theology is the result not only of faith, but also of certain normative rules which fall into two categories: doctrines and dogmas. Doctrines consist of beliefs or teachings which receive the official approval of the Church.
But by contrast, dogmas, which literally mean “what is right,” are doctrines that are taught definitively and promulgated with the highest solemnity. In other words, dogmas are the definitive rules of faith. If you reject a dogma, you become a heretic. Parenthetically, it is very strange that our Church has failed to enumerate what are the Catholic dogmas.
A teaching which is dogma is infallible; but a teaching which is mere doctrine is not infallible. A doctrine can change over time. Thus, the 1973 Mysterium Ecclesiae, a declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states: “The expressions of revelation are historically conditioned, and therefore the meaning is not always self-evident to those in some other historical setting. The meaning in dogmatic language may change from one historical period to another. The truth itself may be expressed incompletely.”
In his classic bestseller, the 1994 revised edition of the book entitled Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien of the University of Notre Dame, said: “The Church has never explicitly claimed to such infallibility on a moral question.” The RH issue is a moral question. The Catholic Church has never claimed that any pronouncement on the RH issue is infallible.
And in the 1996 book Christ Among Us, Anthony Wilhelm said that on the question of contraception: “The large majority of theologians agree that no question of infallibility is involved.”
The Catholic Enjoys Freedom of Conscience
Every Catholic, like any citizen, enjoys freedom of conscience. In fact, modern theology now recognizes the primacy of conscience over mere doctrines formulated by certain clerics. In 1965, Pope Paul 6 issued an encyclical letter entitled Dignitatis Humanae, also known as Declaration on Religious Freedom. The Pope wrote: “Man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity, a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of living. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience.”
In 1967, the same Pope Paul 6 issued another encyclical entitled Populorum Progreso, also known as “On the Development of Peoples.” The Pope said: “It is for the parish to decide, with full knowledge of the matter, on the number of their children . . . in all these they must follow the demands of their own conscience.”
The 1971 statement by the US Sacred Congregation for the Clergy states: “Conscience is invulnerable and no person is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his (or her) conscience.”
Years later, in 1993, Pope John Paul 23 issued his encyclical entitled Veritatis Splendor, also known as Splendor of Truth. The Pope said: “The authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians. The Church puts herself always and only in the service of conscience.”
And in 1996, in the book Christ Among Us, which I have already cited, Anthony Wilhelm wrote that some “500 American theologians, in concert with many theologians throughout the world, asserted that for grave reasons Catholics may follow their conscience this matter even though the Pope has spoken.”
Quoting Andrew Greeley, both a priest and socialist, Wilhelm reached the following conclusion: “It is a clear teaching that, while erroneous decisions might be made in following one’s conscience, one who has tried to inform one’s conscience must then follow it.”
RH Observes the “Preferential Option for the Poor,” Under Liberation Theology
Liberation theology is the theory which interprets liberation from social, political, and economic oppression as an anticipation of eschatological or post-death salvation. The following are the basic principles of liberation theology:
- It is the Church and not merely the Catholic hierarchy, which is a sacrament.
- By Church, we mean the whole People of God, not just the hierarchy.
- The whole People of God participates in the mission of Christ, and not just in the mission of the Catholic hierarchy.
- The mission of the Church includes service to those in need, and, parenthetically, service to the women of the poor. The mission of the Church is not limited to the preaching of the gospel or the celebration of the sacraments.
In his 1988 book, A Theory of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez wrote that the preferential option for the poor is central in liberation theology. He advocated giving “preference to the poorest and most needy sectors.” He reminded Catholics of the statement made by Pope John Paul 23 just before the opening of Vatican 2 that the Church is called upon to be a church of the poor. Gutierrez said: “Let me say only that we have here two aspects of the church’s life that are both demanding and inseparable: universality and preference for the poor.”
RH is Part of Today’s Sense of the Faithful, Also Known as Sensus Fidelium
Literally, sensus fidelium means “the sense of the faithful.” It refers to doctrinal truth recognized by the whole body of the faithful. In theology, the sense of the faithful belongs to the individual believer within the community of the faithful. In other words, God teaches us not only through the priests and the bishops, but also through the laity, to whom God gives understanding of the faith.
In opposing the RH bill, certain members of the Catholic religious fail to listen effectively to the sense of the faithful. The Catholic clergy have a moral duty to take into consideration the experiences and consciousness of the laity. The religious should descend from the pulpit and consult with parishioners on RH. Today we find some of the male religious issuing their orders and directives from the pulpit, or in other words using the bully pulpit. Some of them manage only to appeal to blind faith, instead of participating in a consultative process with the Catholic laity, particularly the poor and the underprivileged.
THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH ACT, Part 1: Primacy of Conscience in Catholic Theology
Co-sponsorship speech on 1 August 2011
As principal author, I am now tasked to co-sponsor Senate Bill No. 2865, officially titled “An act providing for a national policy on reproductive health and population and development,” also known as the Senate version of the RH bill. It is the companion bill to House Bill No. 4244, which is undergoing plenary debate in the House of Representatives.
Reproductive health bills have been passed by the majority of Catholic countries, particularly by Catholic developing countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Other countries include Italy, Poland, Paraguay, Portugal, and Spain. When the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), now known as the UN Population Fund, profiled 48 Catholic countries, only six countries did not have a reproductive health law. The Philippines is one of them.
In our country, the Catholic church is the only major religion that opposes the RH bill. Other major Christian churches have officially endorsed the RH bill, and in fact have published learned treatises explaining their position. They are:
- Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood, 2007
- National Council of Churches in the Philippines, 2009
- Iglesia ni Cristo, 2010
- Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, 2011
The position of these Christian churches is supported by the most authoritative body of Islamic clerics in the Philippines, the Assembly of Darul-Iftah of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. These Islamic clerics constitute the top-ranking ulama who are deemed to have the authority to issue opinions on matters facing Islam and Muslims. In 2003, they issued a fatwah or religious ruling called “Call to Greatness.” It gives Muslim couples a free choice on whether to practice family planning, particularly child spacing.
Further, the RH bill is supported by a big majority of Filipinos in the country, as shown by certain nationwide surveys. In October 2008, Social Weather Stations reported that 71 percent were in favor of the RH bill. In October 2010, Pulse Asia reported that 69 percent were in favor of the RH bill.
Vatican Council 2 and the Revolution in Moral Theology
Despite these surveys, certain Catholics, notably certain bishops, seem poised to fight to the death against the RH bill. To understand why Catholics are so divided on this issue, and why there is such fierce antipathy, we must go back to the Second Vatican Council, the greatest of the councils held by the Catholic Church. A Vatican council is an ecumenical council, meaning that it includes the whole Christian world, or the universal Church. The decisions of an ecumenical council are considered authoritative.