President Aquino has recently verbalized his support for government health offices to offer artificial family planning methods alongside natural ones. We welcome President Aquino to the 21st century. We denounce the religious fundamentalists who seek to drag him (and our country) back to the sixteenth.
THE PROBLEM: A CATHOLIC HIERARCHY THAT ABUSES ITS POWER
The Roman Catholic hierarchy – as embodied by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines – is using its outsize influence to impose its particular views on our government and the people of the Philippines.
By forcing government offices to provide ONLY natural family planning methods, it forces the government to ignore the needs of all Filipinos in favor of the opinions of a few fundamentalist Catholics.
By imposing its will on nominally secular government offices, it makes a mockery of our supposedly secular Constitution and institutions, while revealing it cannot walk its own talk about the “absolute dignity of conscience”.
By demanding obedience and usurping secular authority from our elected officials, the Church effectively dictates the observance of its particular religious views upon all Filipinos, regardless of religion.
When we permit the Catholic hierarchy to substitute the Catholic agenda for the government’s, everybody loses. The Church loses moral authority. Government decision making powers are hobbled. And constituents end up being badly served by decisions driven by dogma instead of reason.
BISHOPS HAVE NO POWER TO COMPEL OBEDIENCE
The Catholic Church has no power to compel obedience from Filipinos or the government. But you wouldn’t know that by the way our society’s stakeholders have, up to now, crumpled before the bishops’ demands for compliance.
The government continues to grant special privileges to the Catholic hierarchy, according it a reverence that it grants no other religious group. This flies in the face of our Constitution and its mandated separation of Church and State.
The mass media continues to report the Church stance, disproportionately and without due balance. Do we hear from other religious groups, Catholic or otherwise, who disagree with the bishops? Do we hear from intellectuals who can debunk the CBCP’s continuing efforts to spread misinformation about artificial family planning?
THE WAY FORWARD: POLICY DICTATED BY REASON, NOT RELIGION
The path is clear for the President and his administration: government health offices must be permitted to provide information and supplies that promote reproductive health and family planning, in a manner consistent with the Constitution and our secular laws.
For many of our fellow Filipinos, government health offices are their only source of health information and medication. These Filipinos have a legal right to be educated about all aspects of family planning; they have a right to artificial methods of family planning if they ask.
Our fellow Filipinos cannot be deprived of legal family planning resources simply because the bishops of the CBCP say so. The CBCP’s interests cannot predominate in a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional community.
A Muslim or Protestant mother must not be compelled to settle for government services tailored only to meet Catholic sensitivities, which is what happens when the Church is able to bully legislators into substituting the Catholic agenda for the government’s.
WHAT WE CAN DO
As Filipinos who support policies driven by science and reason, we must do our utmost to oppose the Catholic hierarchy’s retrograde policies.
We will be vigilant. We will counter Catholic misinformation with accurate information, supported by scientific evidence.
We will be heard. We will match protests with counter-protests. We will send letters to public officials. And we will take our message to the Filipino people through all media channels available to us.
We will not be afraid. Beyond the power to cause fear, the Church has no power whatsoever. Excommunication, refusal of sacraments, or the disapproval of bishops cannot hurt us. What remains to be done is to show these bishops we cannot be cowed.
But we cannot oppose the Church alone, or piecemeal. Now is the time for all of us – those of us who cannot brook the CBCP’s incursions into government policy, those of us who find our personal beliefs colliding with those of the bishops – to speak up.
“The state’s duty is to educate our families as to their responsibilities and to respect their decisions if they are in conformity to our laws,” President Aquino has said. As President Aquino raises his voice in support of family planning choices for all Filipinos, let us raise our voices with him.
Raise your voice in support of a secular society.
Raise your voice in opposition of a Church hierarchy 500 years too late.