So what’s the Catholic advice to Salve?
WHEN THE anti-RH Catholic lobby insists that the poor buy their condoms with their own money, they act like a modern-day Marie Antoinette to whom we now misattribute the infamous quote: “Let them eat cake.”
Yesterday’s Inquirer (“Salve’s life: A strong case for RH bill,” by Kristine Felisse Mangunay) featured Salve Paa, a 37-year-old Filipina who lives in a resettlement area in Valenzuela City, in a 32-square-meter space with an earthen floor that gets wet when it rains and a latrine consisting of a hole in the ground.
She and her husband support their eight surviving children on a combined monthly wage of P5,200. During their 27 years together, she has actually given birth to 12 children but four have died, including Christian who died at 4, Trisha who died at 7, and Sarah Fe who died at 10, all of infection by “pathogenic microorganisms.” Angelito, age 3, is sickly and relies on blood transfusions at the National Children’s Hospital. None of the kids finished grade school. Ana Liza, who dropped out at Grade 6, has the highest educational attainment. Aries and Albert, reached Grade 1 and Prep, respectively. Salve has repeatedly asked the two older boys, Alvin and Albert, to live on their own but—as a mother—has always taken them in each time they came back.
Had she known about family planning sooner, she would have chosen not to have so many babies. And here’s the shocker. Salve is pregnant, her 13th pregnancy and the 11th mouth to be fed on their measly budget.
And Salve is even lucky. It is a feat that her starved body has been sturdy enough to withstand her 13th pregnancy.
I wonder: What would the anti-RH Catholic say to Salve? Would they preach the dignity of life to someone who sleeps a few feet away from the stench of an open latrine? Would they preach the sanctity of life to a mother, three of whose kids died young and whose lives could have been saved by decent sanitation? Would they preach family values to a loving mother who miraculously manages to stretch her meager budget?
The RH bill need not solve poverty. All it must do is help mothers like Salve plan the number and spacing of their children as a way to cope with poverty. Anti-RH activists prescribe all those wonderful solutions to poverty—anti-corruption, more foreign direct investments, more education, more spiritual blessings. I ask them: In the meantime that your solutions haven’t worked, and surely it hasn’t been for lack of trying, should we just leave the millions of Salves unprotected from unwanted pregnancies—when there are cheap and simple alternatives?
Surely, the anti-RH advocates reply, there is an even cheaper, church-approved option: the rhythm method that enables couples to have sex in such a way that they deliberately avoid pregnancy. But I wonder: If sex without procreation using rhythm is alright, why would Catholics object to sex without procreation using condoms? Same thing really: coital pleasure without babies.
The only difference is that rhythm requires sacrifice during the fertile period. But isn’t that attitude rather too medieval, like walking on one’s knees all the way to the altar, or praying the Rosary with arms outstretched, or flagellating oneself during Semana Santa? Why should the modern Catholic approach sex as if it were a privilege to be earned through self-mortification and paid for with pregnancy? Isn’t it enough that it be an expression of love within the confines of the marital bedroom?
The clergy’s “Let them eat cake!” approach is strange, coming from a Church founded on compassion for the poor. I am no Bible-thumping Catholic, but I recall some biblical passages about those who were punished because they had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy,” who “harden[ed their] heart [and] shut their hand from the poor,” and of “the righteous who [were] concerned for the rights of the poor [and] the wicked [who were] not.” Whatever happened to the “preferential option for the poor”?
Why then all the Catholic passion against sexual passion? Because for the Filipino clergy, the showdown over the RH bill is no less than a battle for the soul of Filipino Catholicism. The battle is not against the infidels at the gate. It is against the infidels within the gates, those modern Catholics who would not obey blindly, who would think for themselves, who would step outside the temples to live the faith in their daily lives and not just in holy rituals.
That should explain the hard-line, scorched earth strategy now waged by the traditional clergy. One church official called RH champions “no better than terrorists” and supporting the RH bill as “almost like becoming Judas.” One bishop has issued a “Clarificatory Note” warning his flock: “Any Catholic who freely identifies himself or herself [with Catholics for Reproductive Health] gravely errs” and “endangers his own spiritual well-being.”
Someone should tell them that those who support the RH bill actually aim to lessen the half a million abortions in the country each year, foster family unity and enable parents to raise their kids in dignity and with love, and ensure the moral upbringing and physical well-being of vulnerable children.
Deep-down, the serious traditional Catholic actually shares more dreams in common with RH advocates. Conversely, if one looks at the array of anti-RH politicians, I wonder if these guys have genuinely shunned contraceptives in their private lives as piously as they now publicly proclaim. Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows, and politics, and not faith, is what the anti-RH crusade is. Surely there must be something in the Bible that condemns hypocrisy.
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