Conservative Catholics such as those that comprise the CBCP present liberal positions on matters such as sexuality as part of a continuing trend of social and moral decay. The problem with the social conservatives’ view on the current reproductive health issue is that this trend of “moral decay” that they are seeing is a lot more nefarious than they think. What they are actually seeing is growing skepticism and distrust of the last stronghold of religious authority—morality.
It used to be that the Church had a say in other spheres of thought such as cosmology and biology. With the embarrassment that is the Galileo affair (and the subsequent 1991 apology to the centuries dead astronomer), we can be thankful that no one seriously asks theologians for their say about string theory or the nature of the hydrogen bond (strangely, they are still asked about their views on developmental biology). Now, as our sciences have completely repudiated intelligent design and vitalist doctrines, the Church has lost all power of authority over descriptions of the universe and the mechanisms by which it functions, which is why they are fighting tooth and nail over the use of “morals” in discourse. But no matter how hard the Church tries to paddle us back to the more familiar shores of the 12th century, the human race will journey on and move forward, as it always has. Our children will see the denial of equal rights to homosexuals as abhorrent as we now see slavery. The hysterics Eric Manalang and his cohorts use in harping against contraceptives are already as bizarre and as ridiculous as phrenology. It is only inevitable that the more general religious obsession over what naked people do with their bodies will become as quaint and as obtuse as the practice of blowing smoke up someone’s butt to revive them after drowning. It’s just a matter of time. But with lives in the balance, we cannot wait any longer.
The Church holds values that are explicitly divorced from facts found in the real world. They not only hold such views, they are proud of them. Blessed John Henry Newman encapsulates Catholic morality as this, “She [the Church] regards this world, and all that is in it, as a mere shadow, as dust and ashes, compared with the value of one single soul. She holds that, unless she can, in her own way, do good to souls, it is no use her doing anything; she holds that it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest [sic] agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful [sic] untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse.” While this distillation may set Catholic hearts ablaze with zeal, I find in this passage everything that is worthy of scorn and disdain in the Catholic Church. How can we build a lasting society where people can peacefully collaborate when this level of contempt for human solidarity and improvement of lives exists? It is from this doctrine-mandated disregard for the suffering of mankind that the vitriol of demagogues such as Manalang springs. This is the justification for the abject lies the Church uses to discredit the use of condoms to prevent AIDS despite its ravages—lies that the Vatican now must turn its back on as it accepts the impact of the recent words of its dear leader.
What conservative Catholics continue to call as “immoral” is the simple admission that human suffering is wrong and that we should do everything in our power to prevent it. It is far better for the Church that starving children are forced to peddle wares on the streets than to concede that planning pregnancies by more certain means can be used to prevent the anguish of more innocent children born into misfortune. The authority of God’s One True Church over sins is enough and any mere human attempt at alleviating affliction or delivering justice is heresy. This belief is why the Church squirrels away its rapist employees from real courts. This is irresponsible absurdity at full gallop. Despite its persistent assumption of it, the Church does not stand on the moral high ground. It is wallowing in its own valley of self-righteousness and blindness to human distress. How have we been swindled into thinking that the Church has anything useful or true to say about morals?
On the matter of the respect so fervently demanded by our friends across the aisle, it may perhaps be a shock to them that respect is earned. Respect, as with the moral high ground, is merited through the soundness of one’s positions despite dogged criticism. It is obtained not by steadfast dogmatism, but by an openness to changing one’s most cherished beliefs in the face of evidence. We show our respect for people of different views by arguing with them. This is because we believe that people are sensible and will listen to reason, lest we be guilty of the condescension of feigned deference and politeness, which passive-aggressively insinuates the unreasonableness of an adversary by keeping what you believe is true from them. We respect people enough to call them out when they are lying because we believe that they are not cynics and that they genuinely care about truth and the lives of the human beings their opinions affect.
The Church already recognizes some linkage between unplanned pregnancies and a life of hardship, albeit half-heartedly. Their promotion of the archaic and ineffective “natural family planning” betrays their hypocrisy. As HL Mencken notes, “It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.” They will eventually catch up with the modern ethics of sexuality and contraception, like it has with slavery and witch burning, give or take a few centuries. But until they do, their opinions on morality and human experience are as invalid and as retrograde as Pro-Life Philippines’ opinions on neuroscience and the effect of Satan on the prefrontal cortex.