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Don’t Fear the Preacher: Fear and the RH Bill

In a final attempt at scrounging for votes against the Reproductive Health Bill, CBCP President Archbishop Jose Palma exhorted CBCP loyalists in the House of Representatives with the words their god told Abraham, “Do not be afraid.” You may recall that Abraham was the man whose son Yahweh asked him to kill to prove his faith.

Palma told representatives to “listen to what God is saying.” By pure coincidence, I’m sure, what “God is saying” is exactly what Palma is saying, with God unable to speak for himself.

While Archbishop Palma entreats conservatives in Congress to be free from fear, the Roman Catholic Church sows fear everywhere else. Once Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto conceded that the pro-RH side had the votes to pass the measure in the Senate, he had this to say, “May God have mercy on their souls.” This, of course, was a threat against pro-RH senators that while they may win in this world, they will face everlasting torment in the afterlife.

A similar tact has been repeatedly approached by other conservative Catholics, where they quote the Gospel’s injunction against those who “cause the little ones to sin.” Matthew 18:6 says, “…if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” They threaten RH advocates with death because they believe that the RH Bill will lead otherwise faithful believers into sin through the temptation of contraception. A cursory search through Google will reveal how popular the idiom is among conservative Catholics and just how much they would like to tie a rock around all our necks and drown us in the sea.

Centered on human sacrifice, violence is at the very root of the Catholic religion and it is not at all surprising that its most zealous adherents would resort to savage irrationality when things do not go their way (despite their confidence in a god). RH Bill sponsor Edcel Lagman has been well-aware of the Church’s history of violence, saying, “Fear has always been used by the clergy as an instrument of repression and reprisal like fear of damnation…”

Even before the RH Bill has passed either chamber of Congress, the CBCP has already issued a warning that the RH Bill is the start of a slippery slope towards what they call “DEATHS bills” or “Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health, Homosexuality or gay marriages, and Sex education.” The CBCP Secretary General who was quoted saying this has obviously seen the trend in the greater part of the world toward equality for humans and rights over their own bodies. The CBCP fears that it might also happen in our neck of the woods. It is likely, in my view, that the Roman Catholic Church fears more that they will lose their centuries-long stranglehold on the Filipino people.

As RH advocates, we aim to make, with the RH Bill, this very small step towards a lasting and flourishing society in the Philippines. Our opponents have made it clear that they share no such interest. They would rather we be mired in disease, torment, and starvation, for the sake of avoiding some imagined damnation. But, if there is anyone who ought not be afraid, it is those who are on the side of equal human rights and the dignity of self-determination. It is those who are fighting for a better future, not in some invented paradise, but here, on this tiny planet we call home.

As we draw near into the final stages of passing the RH Bill, many are still hoping that both sides of the argument will come to a compromise. But, it is clear from all the threats of death and violence that there shall never be compromise for the Roman Catholic Church. For them, human souls are at stake and they will stop at nothing to prevent the evils that they foresee. None of their fears, of course, are based on any evidence.

The burden of proof is on the Church to show that the ruler of the universe does indeed think contraception is evil and that its users are going straight to hell. Nevertheless, they act as if this is self-evident. It is not. Their views betray a literally medieval mindset that has no room on the floor of the House of Representatives. Yet, it is given room by conservatives such as Rufus Rodriguez at the expense of those who live and die in suffering every day because of the denial of reproductive rights. It is time to say no to these men beholden to fear and superstition. It is time to acknowledge the right of persons over their own bodies. It is time to vote on the RH Bill.

Image Credit: Le sacrifice d’Isaac by Matthias Stom | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, SecularismComments (0)

Malta says “yes” to divorce, “yes” to secularism

Yesterday, the pro-divorce movement won the referendum on divorce with a majority of 54%, ending a battle that has delayed the much-needed measure for decades. The victory came despite the constant political meddling and religious blackmail of the Catholic Church.

Sound familiar? Aside from the happy ending, which left the Philippines the only country without divorce1, the story of Malta’s divorce referendum shares similarities with our own reproductive health (RH) debates:

  1. both countries are last bastions of Catholicism: Malta in Europe, the Philippines in Asia;
  2. both countries are predominantly Catholic: 95% in Malta, 80% in the Philippines; and
  3. both battles are primarily between progressive Catholics and conservative bishops.

And in both cases, the conservative bishops use fear mongering to keep their flock in line. In Malta, the religious blackmail came to a climax during a homily by
Bishop Mario Grech

In the sermon, he warned of “brigands” who want to “lead the flock astray” and “are going after marriage.” He said that members of the pro-divorce movement were lying about being Catholic:

Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. And the wolf is now saying he is Catholic. This is a falsity, this is deceit. I am ready to dialogue with everyone but do not be false, do not lie. You cannot not be loyal to Christ and say you are a Christian or a Catholic. If you are not in communion with Christ’s teachings, you are not in communion with the Church and you cannot receive communion… we cannot pretend to be in communion with the Eucharist…2

The message is consistent with a nation-wide campaign the Church had launched, in which billboards featuring Jesus’ image said “Christ Yes, Divorce No.” Anti-divorce advocates also brought Mary into the picture:

Opponents of reform have invoked the Blessed Virgin and raised the spectre of Maltese society falling apart. Tonio Fenech, the finance minister and a Nationalist Party MP, wrote on a local news website recently: “I am sure Our Lady is very sorrowful that Malta is considering divorce.”

The anti-divorce campaign was denounced by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, an MP with the ruling Nationalist Party:

“The ‘no’ campaign has been disgusting,” said Mr Orlando, who set the referendum ball rolling. “Old ladies who said they would vote for divorce have been barred from taking Communion. An old electoral roll has been used, which means that 2,800 youngsters who are entitled to vote will not be able to. Lay Catholic organisations and 5,000 priests and nuns have also gone door-to-door campaigning. Limitless funds have been offered to the ‘no’ side.” Voting “yes” has been declared a mortal sin from the pulpit.”

To their credit, the bishops did say they were sorry if anyone was hurt by their anti-divorce campaign. Pro-divorce advocates, however, found this hard to believe:

In a reply, pro-divorce group StandUp Malta said the bishops’ statement was an apology which they found difficult to accept.

It was very hard to believe that the apology was genuine, especially since the Church’s campaign continued blatantly even on reflection day yesterday and voting day today.

The apology, they said, should have been made during the campaign when a lot of people were hurt by extreme declarations such as when those who were voting yes were called wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

The fact that the bishops wanted their apology broadcast once voting closed was Machiavellian and dirty.

Regardless of the bishops’ sincerity, I understand why they’re on the defensive. Winning the divorce debate is already Malta’s second secular victory in only six months. Last November, after a decade of opposition from the Catholic Church, they finally launched a long-awaited national sexual health policy — the counterpart of our RH Bill.

That’s two out of five D-E-A-T-H bills in half a year!3 How can a country that’s even more Catholic than the Philippines say “yes” to divorce and RH?

I believe the answer is secularism. While bishops fight to impose their convictions, progressive Catholics in Malta defend separation of church and state and respect the religious freedom of others — even those who have convictions different from theirs:

The Catholic pro-divorce group reiterated yesterday that although they held Christ’s teachings on marriage in high esteem they could not impose their beliefs on the rest of the people.

“Irrespective of how strongly we believe that divorce is bad for the country, we can never sideline the principle taught by Christ and expect others who do not share our faith to submit to our beliefs,” a group spokesman said.

The group said it was every Catholic’s duty to vote yes in the referendum because the issue at stake was whether what Catholics believed was right and wrong should be imposed by the state on everybody else. “We believe there should never be imposition…”

No imposition. Now — other than the bishops — who won’t say “yes” to that?



[1] No, I don’t consider the Vatican a country.

[2] Actually, you can be pro-divorce and still remain Catholic. But you could be excluded from Holy Communion for doing so. I wrote about these sanctions here.

[3] Divorce and Total Reproductive Health are down; Euthanasia, Abortion, and Homosexual Marriage remain.

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