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A name game?

CATHOLICS WHO back the reproductive health bill are “Catholics in name only,” Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros told the Inquirer. Their “cafeteria mentality” selects what to accept or reject.

When avowed followers of the Good Shepherd engage in name-calling, that jolts. Worse, the tarring swirls around “creatures able to trace the stars and feel a passion for eternity,” as Edwin Markham wrote.

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Every day 5,800 Filipino children—equal to three barangays—are born. Tally how much more food, water, shelter, medicine, etc. they will need over the next 365 days. “You cannot say tomorrow to these children. Their name is today.”

Name-calling, however, whittles a vital issue into a quibble about metes and bounds of Malolos. The diocese obviously does not include the collegial Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

At the next-door diocese of Manila, the most prominent Catholic resident is President Benigno Aquino III. He supports the RH bill, and so do a number of Catholics elsewhere.

In November 1964, Pope Paul VI invited University of the Philippines demographer Mercedes Concepcion to work with 54 other scientists in a Holy Office Committee for studies on problems of population. For two years, Concepcion shared her expertise in the Vatican group. Is she a “nominal Catholic” today because she supports the RH bill?

Former Asian Development Bank economist Ernesto Pernia is a rara avis in this neck of the woods. He holds a theology degree. “A hard Church and soft state is at the root of our economic backwardness,’’ Pernia said in a Kalayaan College address. Persisting high poverty incidence is due to bad governance, weak economic growth, wealth and income inequality, plus rapid population growth.

“High fertility rates, especially among the poor, do exacerbate poverty,” he added. “[They] make it harder for government to address it.”

Church stress on rituals rather than reforms caricatures faith. Theologian Thomas Aquinas would have approved.

Take Cebu. Established as a diocese in August 1595, Cebu accounts for 3.41 million Catholics. That includes us plus our grandkids. We have never met the new Cebu archbishop, Jose Palma, who succeeded Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. But this new pastor doesn’t engage in name-calling. He courteously heeds questions from his flock on the RH issue

Palma hasn’t slammed the gate of the sheepfold to us. He explains concerns on the RH bill’s controversial sections, from sex education to contraceptive funding. In his archdiocese, he tamped down “pro-lifers” who threatened tax boycotts. “Civil disobedience by refusal to pay taxes is a non-option,” he said.

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Children stem not from bishops’ diktat but from a choice by parents. “With docile reverence toward God, parents will make decisions by common consent and effort,” as the Second Vatican Council put it. “Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring.”

“Catholic-in-name-only” stereotyping glosses over responsible parenthood. An anathema instead is invoked on RH bill backers. They do that in Ozamis too. Yet, many RH bill supporters were also washed by the same water of baptism. They pray the Nicene Creed of their fathers. “Somos o no somos?’’ they are jabbed nonetheless. Are you with us, or against us?

“Catholic in name only” is pejorative. The “Fray Damaso” smear, that pro-RH bill supporters lob, is no better. The new tag only adds to epithets accumulated by two opposing sides in the, by now, three-decade old “population debate.”

“[We] should suspend … our tendencies to label anyone who doesn’t agree with us as anti-life, anti-God or anti-family,” Fr. Pablo David cautioned in July 2006. “It is counter-productive to simply take a sharp adversarial stance or a posture of militancy. We might end up … marginalizing ourselves.”

David was consecrated as auxiliary bishop of Pampanga on that day. Five years later, Bishop David’s worry has come to pass, as the deadlock on the RH bill in the House of Representatives shows.

“The outcome has been determined by two groups, each dominated by more hard-line spokespersons,” notes Population Center Foundation’s monograph “A Balancing Act.’’ “They talk past each other, without taking time to listen to the other or to discuss calmly the other’s arguments… The need is to move past the deadlocked debate into an area of respectful discussion.”

We have recklessly brawled our way to the edge of a cliff. How does one inch back from a plunge no one really wants? There are no pat answers.

All crises put a premium on selfless leadership. “An army of a thousand is easy to find,” a Chinese proverb says. “But how difficult to find a general.”

Today, we need leaders from state, church and people to revisit areas of common agreement. There are more spheres of consensus than today’s often venomous name-calling suggest.

Two out of every 10 married women, mostly in the D and E economic brackets, want no more children, surveys show. But they cannot access family planning services. Many resort to underground abortions.

Did abortions now crest at 1,930 daily? Who knows? Yet, that is a consequence of “unmet family planning needs.”

The Church supports natural family planning but bucks contraception. Can dioceses like Malolos or Ozamis match their condemnations with Natural Family Planning programs, like what Cagayan de Oro has?

Both state and church agree on the primacy of conscience—not only for Catholics but for all citizens, including Muslims and atheists. As Blessed John Henry Newman put it: “I shall drink to the Pope, if you please. Still to conscience first, and the Pope afterwards.”

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TAGS: Churches (organization), Damaso, laws, religion and belief, RH bill, Roman Catholic
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