Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo is afraid. President Benigno Aquino III has met with the American head of state, a dangerous situation given that the United States is a known advocate of the Reproductive Health bill. There is a big push to pass the law from the outside by pharmaceuticals, he says, especially from America. He calls for vigilance from the Catholic faithful. He asks for vigilance from “pro-life” advocates. He warns against the actions of those who would rally against life.
“We are afraid of this, of the support for same-sex marriage, for divorce, for a contraceptives mentality that is not part of the Filipino culture but is being forced on us by foreigners. But our government allows this, because it means favors for us.”
It is difficult to understand what culture Pabillo and the Catholic hierarchy are afraid of losing with the distribution of free condoms and the sight of two men in suits promising to have and to hold. Yet Pabillo and his brethren are servants of the cloth, anointed by God and revered by men, and by virtue of this demands both respect and engagement. I write this as a result of 14 years of Catholic convent school education, with the belief that even the most misguided of misguided men deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The Church is against the tools, against divorce and same-sex marriage and free contraception, but forgets that a tool is only a tool and it is the human being who chooses to use it. It is the same odd rationale that the Church uses in its fight against divorce and same-sex marriage. Marriage is sacred, so sayeth the Holy Mother Church. It is between man and woman, now and forever, until death do us part. To allow same-sex marriages, to allow divorce, is to destroy the very foundation of the Filipino family, even when its members are battered, abused and unhappy, and have discovered that family is simply a word on a document.
For the men of the Church, the passing of the Reproductive Health bill implies that Armageddon is at hand, a portent far more ominous than the rise in extrajudicial killings and death threats against Italian priests in Arakan Valley. It is a measure so suspect, so fundamentally evil, that an entire culture will be eliminated just by declarations of public support. Yet the culture being protected by Pabillo is one that requires definition.
The Filipino, they say, will be destroyed by a “contraceptive mentality.” That catchphrase has been used to embody the evils of free contraception. Pop a pill, prevent a pregnancy, destroy a culture.
“They said they will fine-tune the bill to make it more acceptable,” said Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life. “I wish the people will see that behind [Mr. Aquino’s] nice words, there is a dark truth that this RH bill promotes a contraceptive mentality. Even if they promote natural means [of family planning] to make the bill acceptable, it’s still the same since they are also promoting the artificial.”
As the Church itself actively promotes natural contraception, the culture they are protecting does not seem to be troubled by sex that does not lead to repopulating the earth. Instead, this “contraceptive mentality” seems to focus on the artificiality of condoms and pills and injectables, and not its intent to stop pregnancy. It will end, so sayeth the men of God, in a culture of death.
“The Church advocates natural family planning as the only morally acceptable way of practicing responsible parenthood,” wrote CBCP president and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo in 2007. “The Church does not forbid the advocacy of the increase or decrease of population provided the freedom of the couple to exercise sexual and family morality according to their religious conviction is respected. Since the Church objects to the use of artificial contraception, the Church likewise objects to their dissemination, creating thereby a contraceptive mentality towards a culture of death.”
It is difficult to understand how artificial contraception leads to a “culture of death” any more than natural family planning. To open the doors to a pill that can stop pregnancy, they say, is to open that same door to abortion. The enormous logical leap that statement demands is coupled with another logical question. Why does a pill make a woman more susceptible to abortion than a woman whose belief in God includes faith in her momentary infertility? Were the Church effective in promoting natural family planning, were natural family planning in itself effective, then there would be lesser cases of small blue bodies left in dumpsters outside the Church of the Black Nazarene. The rise in abortion cases among Manila’s impoverished during the contraception ban is statement enough of how a lack of access to education and artificial contraception makes abortion a probability instead of a remote possibility. Every story of every woman who committed unsafe abortion begins and ends with the same line—“I did not know what else I could do.”
But the Church also claims the artificiality is the problem. The condom is evil because it is artificial. The pill is evil because it is artificial. Perhaps the Church should also consider the body-basal temperature method for natural planning a dangerous thing, as it necessitates the use of a thermometer, a man-made tool that is not grown in the sunny fields of Church property. And yet the gentlemen of the Church appear to have no problems with anesthesia and chemotherapy and the varying unnatural tools of the medical profession, and have been known to take insulin shots and migraine medication and whatever pharmaceutical invention is necessary for the relief of their physical suffering. That this choice is denied a woman is not only impractical, it is also discriminatory. Artificial is good enough for the clerics and the priests, but the woman is allowed natural and only natural—and don’t tell her it doesn’t really work. Welcome to the Philippines, pearl of the Orient, cradle of the brave where a woman can vote for the next occupant of the Palace but has no voice as to whether she will allow the occupation of her uterus.
This is what the Catholic Church is afraid of losing. The “Filipino culture” it is fighting to maintain is not virtue or morality or some sort of godly precept, the Church is afraid of losing its own moral authority to control the creation of a state where every citizen is allowed a choice, even when that citizen is a woman.
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