ateneo president fr villarin ignores bishop, upholds independent thinking and appreciates ateneo professors efforts on rh bill
in the long held tradition of the ateneo, fr. villarin, ateneo president not only upholds independent thinking but more importantly appreciates the 192 professors who have released a statement of their support on the rh bill. the latter to me was unexpected.
some weeks ago, the ateneo professors released a statement where 160 of them stated their support for the rh bill, calling for congress to pass the bill. that caught the attention of the rh bill advocates and was one of the most talked about among groups involved on the bill.
then just a few days ago, the same group of ateneo professors released another statement saying an additional 33 professors signed on to their statement of support for the rh bill.
that once again caught the attention of opposing forces on the rh bill debate and this time included traditional media. it helped that that was the time that president aquino included the rh bill on his SONA and it was causing excitement in congress. the renewed interest and strong publicity of the statement of the ateneo professors supporting the rh bill also caught the attention of the CBCP and a permanent member of it.
CBCP member bishop medroso has said the ateneo professors who aired their support for the rh bill should be investigated to see if they should be fired for teaching the rh bill at the ateneo. the CBCP opposes the rh bill.
bishop medroso says the ateneo being a catholic school should toe the line of the CBCP on the rh bill. according to him by implication, ateneo can lose its recognition as a catholic school and the professors their jobs if they teach their students their support to the rh bill in the classrooms.
as a reaction to the growing and very loud voices on the ateneo professors’ statements, this letter was released by fr. villarin. it was released very quickly, just one day after the threat of the bishop was written up in the press.
the letter states that it recognizes the individual stand of the professors in their support of the rh bill and accepts that there are divergent views on the rh bill and the ateneo professors position is one of them.
the most important part is that he does not sanction the ateneo professors for their stand supporting the rh bill which is contrary to the school’s stand and the CBCP. the CBCP bishop was in less than subtle terms wanted the sanction.
fr. villarin even goes on to give the ateneo professors encouragement, saying they should “continue in their discernment of the common good“, appreciating the intent the professors stated in their position paper which was to help the poor, saying “I appreciate their social compassion and intellectual efforts“.
we thought that the last part on the “intellectual efforts” was not just a recognition of the high quality work and thinking the professors put into their statement but also a subtle allusion to the quality, or lack of it, of the discourse from anti rh bill proponents.
it is very clear that in this letter, fr. villarin:
- ignores, rebukes and delivers a slap in the face of the CBCP and the bishop who was calling for the ateneo professors to be fired from their teaching jobs at the ateneo
- key here is fr. villarin has stated no sanctions of any sort or censure on the ateneo professors. this is the exact opposite of what the cbcp and the bishop wanted
- he sees the action of the ateneo professors in a very different light from what the bishop was trying to say
- the ateneo agrees to disagree with the ateneo professors as fr. villarin states that the ateneo as a catholic school opposes the passage of the rh bill
- respects the opposing view of the ateneo professors and allows them to pursue their views as the professors see fit
- states that the school has been teaching in the classrooms the anti rh bill position of the school and the CBCP. this is important as this establishes the CBCP may not sanction ateneo as it is in fact teaching its position.
- that sets up the point that the statement released by the professors are indeed just their individual and personal view on the rh bill and thus cannot be sanctioned by the school or the CBCP. fr. villarin has drawn a differentiation between what the professors teach in the classroom and what they say as individuals. the latter goes to freedom of expression and academic freedom.
- although obviously unstated, we think fr. villarin is pro rh bill. he just could not say it being the president of the catholic school ateneo. not saying comes within the territory of his job as president of the catholic school he heads.
- rather than calling for the non passage of the rh bill, fr. villarin is calling for amendments to the bill.
- he also probably thinks the rh bill will be passed, saying that the community should work for making sure no coercion is done in its implementation allowing for people to exercise free will to decide to avail or not avail any of the components of the rh bill.
- the letter shows a very keen appreciation of the pro-poor and pro-people stance of the ateneo professors in their support of the rh bill. we think it is obvious from here that fr. villarin together with the ateneo professors believe and practice in being “man for others”
- upholds the ateneo tradition of encouraging, in fact teaching informed independent thinking, inclusive of whether it agrees or disagrees with its own position. this is a tradition in the school. if the students are taught this, why shouldn’t it allow the professors to exercise the same?
- we think this one of the strongest statements in that letter : “Nevertheless, Catholic tradition has always taught that reason and faith are not enemies but allies in the service of God’s truth.” reason here refers to the position paper released by the ateneo professors while faith refers to the position of the CBCP, the bishop and the university. he is saying here that they really should not clash or one cancel the other, and that in fact both can be combined to reach the “service of God’s truth”. he is saying both are right and not one is wrong over the other.
- in saying both are right and not one is wrong over the other has the effect of siding with the ateneo professors. the previous and original statement released by the ateneo professors had this as the topic : “catholics in conscience can support the rh bill”. (click here: Catholics Can Support The RH Bill In Good Conscience – Ateneo Professors’ Position Paper RH Bill 5043)
clearly, fr. villarin is a man of high intellect with a genuine gift for communicating and words. it is also obvious he has a full understanding of his role, the ateneo professors and the school and its dynamics and core values. he has done his job well as president of the ateneo.
this is a proud day for ateneo and ateneans.
Memo to the University Community from the President
date posted: 2012-08-21 12:30:09
20 August 2012
Memo to: The University Community
Subject: HB 4244
Together with our leaders in the Catholic Church, the Ateneo de Manila University does not support the passage of House Bill 4244 (The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Bill). As many of these leaders have pointed out, the present form of the proposed bill contains provisions that could be construed to threaten constitutional rights as well as to weaken commonly shared human and spiritual values.
Now that the period for amendments is about to begin, I enjoin all in the Ateneo community to continue in-depth study of the present bill, and to support amendments to remove provisions that could be ambiguous or inimical from a legal, moral or religious perspective.
In connection with this, I call attention to the 192 members of our faculty who have grappled with the underlying issues in the context of Catholic social teaching, and who have spoken in their own voice in support of the bill. Though the University must differ from their position for the reasons stated above, I appreciate their social compassion and intellectual efforts, and urge them to continue in their discernment of the common good. As there is a spectrum of views on this ethical and public policy issue, I ask all those who are engaged in the Christian formation of our students to ensure that the Catholic position on this matter continues to be taught in our classes, as we have always done.
Should the bill with whatever amendments be passed, we should neither hesitate to bring to the judiciary whatever legal questions we may have nor cease to be vigilant in ensuring that no coercion takes place in implementation.
If there is no easy answer to the concerns that the proposed bill raises or no facile unanimity among divergent views, this only proves the complexity, depth, and sensitivity of these concerns. Nevertheless, Catholic tradition has always taught that reason and faith are not enemies but allies in the service of God’s truth. From this tradition, we can draw strength and compassion in our often tortuous journey as persons in community toward the greater glory of God and the service of God’s people.
Jose Ramon T Villarin SJ