Tag Archive | "Humanae Vitae"

Contraception, Corona, and Unimpeachable Dogma

The Hypothetical Case of Corona

Imagine that by some miracle, the prosecution managed to provide overwhelming evidence that could convict Corona. But for some reason, the senator-judges arrive at a surprising verdict: not guilty.

When Senator-Judge Enrile (still our hypothetical presiding officer) is asked about it, he explains that like the other Senators, he, too, was convinced that Corona should be convicted. However, Enrile explains, conviction was impossible.

Why? Because if Corona is guilty, it would mean that Ex-President Arroyo made a mistake in appointing him Chief Justice. And if Arroyo made a mistake, it means that presidents aren’t perfect. And if presidents aren’t perfect, then democracy is doomed. Therefore, Corona is not guilty.

Unless you are a Corona cultist, you’d think that such a verdict is insane. Corona himself would admit guilt instead of letting such a mockery of the legal system stand. (OK, maybe not.) In any case, you’ll surely admit that no one would find such insanity reasonable.

Yet many find insanity reasonable when done in the name of religion. This is what happened when Pope Paul VI confirmed that contraceptives were evil.

The Actual Case of Contraception

In the early 60s, many Catholics started suspecting the innocence of an old teaching: the evil of contraception. They expressed dissent so strongly that Pope John XXIII (and later Pope Paul VI) formed a commission to investigate the original teaching’s innocence, so to speak.

After 6 years on trial, the commission reached their verdict:

  • 9 of 12 bishops found the original teaching wrong
  • 15 of 19 theologians found the original teaching wrong
  • 30 of 35 lay members found the original teaching wrong

The commission had found evidence — from Scripture and Tradition to Science and Experience — to conclude that the original teaching on contraception was wrong; contraception was not always evil.

The commission submitted their official report, and Pope Paul VI agreed with it — contraceptives were not inherently evil. I emphasize “official report” because a small group of conservatives unofficially submitted what is now called (mistakenly) the minority report. Regardless of its official standing, the other report contained the argument that changed the Pope’s mind.

Infallible Defense

While the official report was comprehensive and complex — arguing from different perspectives, providing both traditional and modern evidence — the other report was simple and single-minded. It relied primarily on an old (yet relatively recent) Catholic teaching: that Popes can’t be wrong when it comes to faith and morals because Jesus magically protects them from the mere possibility.

All the rational and scientific arguments of the official report were trumped by the other one’s appeal to the miraculous. And the writers of the unofficial report were unashamed of resorting to this defense:

If we could bring forward arguments which are clear and cogent based on reason alone, it would not be necessary for our Commission to exist, nor would the present state of affairs exist in the Church… The Church could not have erred through so many centuries, even through one century, by imposing under serious obligation very grave burdens in the name of Jesus Christ, if Jesus Christ did not actually impose these burdens.

As one minority member put it, if the original teaching is wrong, what will happen to all those Catholic souls the Church previously sent to Hell ? To this a member of the majority had the perfect response: “Father Zalba, do you really believe that God has carried out all your orders?”

Pope John Paul II, then a Cardinal who was also part of the conservative minority, argued as follows:

If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error.

This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.

When he became pope, he explained why infallibility was crucial to Catholicism:

I am convinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.

In short, the conservatives used logic similar to that of our hypothetical Corona case:

  1. If the original teaching on contraception is wrong, then 2 previous popes were wrong.
  2. If 2 previous popes were wrong, then there’s no such thing as infallibility.
  3. If there’s no such thing as infallibility, then the Catholic Church is doomed.
  4. Therefore, the original teaching is correct.

Of course, other arguments were used in the so-called minority report. But those were the same arguments that had already been refuted by the commission. In the end, infallibility was the only argument left unanswered.

Unimpeachable Dogma

To this day, the Catholic Church still stands by its anti-contraceptive stance, and on the doctrine of infallibility that defended it. If the same kind of insane defense were to clear Corona’s name, an EDSA III would not be unlikely. Although surveys show that many Filipinos have already lost interest, I’m sure such an attack on common sense would motivate even the most apathetic to action.

Regardless of how the actual impeachment trial turns out, Filipinos should already be thankful for one thing: our public officials — unlike Catholic doctrines — are impeachable.

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The Future Saint John Paul II

Pope John Paul II was beloved in the Philippines, which he visited twice during his reign, and all over the world. He was seen as the rock star pope, with a papacy that was known for its close ties with the laity. And when his almost 27 year reign as pope ended in 2005, after years of suffering Parkinson’s Disease, the people gathered at St. Peter’s Square shouted “santo subito!” (“sainthood now!”) and called him “John Paul the Great.” With his beatification this past May 1, sainthood is now all but assured.

The Catholic institution of canonization requires a total of two “verified” miracles in order to recognize a Catholic as being a saint who can hear prayers and intercede for those who ask for their help. It is theologically important to note that Christians are not “made” saints by the Church, but, rather, recognized. Before one is confirmed as a saint, however, one must first be beatified. In order to be beatified, a candidate must have one of the two required “verified” miracles under their belt.

The Roman Catholic Church takes miraculous claims seriously—having, until recently, the office of advocatus diaboli, or the Devil’s Advocate, which makes a case against the canonization of a particular candidate. Incidentally, it was John Paul II himself who abolished the office, which expedited hundreds of canonization proceedings. Christopher Hitchens, when he was asked to argue against the beatification of Mother Teresa after the dissolution of the office of the Devil’s Advocate, described his role as representing the devil “pro bono”. The Church investigates miraculous cures and requires that, in order to be attributable to the intercession of a candidate for canonization, the cure be instantaneous, complete, and lasting.

For John Paul II, one of his necessary miracles for canonization came in the form of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who is said to have recovered from the incurable Parkinson’s disease, the same illness suffered by the late pontiff. Sister Simon-Pierre wrote the name of Pope John Paul II after his death on a piece of paper. The next day, she was apparently cured and resumed her duties in her order.

It is, of course, entirely possible that Sister Simon-Pierre was simply afflicted by an illness that had neurodegenerative appearances similar to Parkinson’s, but was curable. A doctor charged with investigating the nun’s condition aired out similar doubts.

But, even if the good Sister Simon-Pierre had Parkinson’s, what the Church is expecting its faithful (and the secular world) to accept is that her recovery was not a natural event. The Church is asking the world to consider that not only have the laws of the universe been suspended (let that sink in for a while: the laws of the universe have been suspended) but that they have been overturned in favor of the Roman Catholic Church and in a manner suspiciously convenient for its politics. With its pastiche of medical investigations that could earn a mid-season replacement spot on NBC, the Catholic Church purports its canonization procedures as scientific: skeptical and rigorous. And what could be more scientific and intellectually honest than concluding from an inexplicable recovery that a person who has died is now watching us from heaven and can help get our prayers to God answered?

With his recent beatification, John Paul II is now just one miracle shy of a confirmed sainthood. A confirmed sainthood would mean that the Roman Catholic Church believes on faith that John Paul II is, in fact, in a place called heaven, in the presence of someone called Jesus Christ. This is the level of pseudoscience, rivaling only ufology and homeopathy, that every believing Catholic has to swallow for each and every saint venerated inside their opulent cathedrals. It’s hard to imagine a bigger waste of human productivity. But for the sole political purpose of establishing John Paul II as a champion of the Roman Catholic Church and what it stands for, the recognition of his sainthood is perfectly appropriate.

Defenders of the current pope, Benedict XVI, cite Darío Cardinal Castríllon Hoyos when pointing the finger at the late John Paul II for the child rape scandal sweeping the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Hoyos served as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and was in charge of priests and deacons who are not in religious orders. In this capacity, he praised a French bishop, Pierre Pican, for not sending the child rapist Rev. Rene Bissey to “civil administration” and congratulated Pican for being “a model of a father who does not hand over his sons.” Cardinal Hoyos revealed that he did so under the approval of Pope John Paul II and was authorized to send his letter of praise to other bishops around the world. Pican served three months in prison for protecting the rapist. Bissey was sentenced to 18 years for the rape of a boy and the sexual assault of ten others.

A good friend of Pope John Paul II, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, “Father Maciel” as he was known, was the founder of the Legion of Christ. The pope described him as an “efficacious guide to youth.” Degollado used the Legion of Christ and his charismatic persona, targeting widows in particular, to funnel millions into Church coffers. The congregation’s assets have been estimated at 25 billion euros. Degollado had political clout with backers including current United States presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and the brother of former president George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, both noted conservatives in the Republican party. Father Maciel was honored by John Paul II in the Vatican in 2004 despite long-standing charges of sex abuse, which involved at least 20 Legion seminarians. As an efficacious guide to the youth, Degollado fathered several children, whom he also reportedly abused. The current pope, Benedict XVI, eventually invited Degollado to lead “a reserved life of prayer and penance”—apparently a punishment suitable for the crime. Degollado never faced any criminal sanctions and died in 2008 as a free man.

It was during Pope John Paul II’s reign when the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, the Holy See’s diplomat to Ireland, told Irish bishops that reporting the rape of innocent children to the proper authorities gave rise to “serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.” Under John Paul II, Archbishop Storero upheld that canon law was above the secular law of a nation, showing a characteristic Vatican indifference to state sovereignty and cries for justice by their employees’ victims.

Pope John Paul II maintained when the first child rape cases started cropping up in the news that it was entirely an “American problem.” Like many other claims by the Church, this ultimately proved false. The Vatican’s position on the crisis was, and still is, that society, not the Church and its self-preservationist policies, is at fault with its permissiveness and “hyper-inflated” sexuality.

Society’s permissiveness apparently drove John Paul the Great to allow Hans Cardinal Hermann Groer, who molested over 2,000 boys (a number so large that it retains almost no meaning) to hide from police in a nunnery. Cardinal Groer eventually died there without being prosecuted for his crimes. Of course, the Church’s repressive Victorian attitudes towards sex, which were strengthened by Humanae Vitae and Persona Humana and reiterated in the Pope’s own The Splendour of Truth, which put the use of contraceptives on par with genocide, were not to blame for its systemic problem with sins against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue.

Pope John Paul II reinforced the old boys’ club of puritans and conservatives in the Catholic Church by having papal nuncios spy on clerics and recommend only for promotion to bishop those who were strongly against contraceptives. John Paul II’s policy of narrow-mindedness was crucial in the assembly of retrograde anachronisms that comprise the CBCP, as well as the other institutions that make up the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy we have today. This is his legacy to the world.

Filipino pilgrims led by Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales watched Pope John Paul II’s beatification ceremony this past May 1. It was their homage to a man who was indeed loved by Filipinos. While Pope John Paul II was undeniably a man who argued for peace and acted to heal religious strife between mutually contradictory faiths, he was also instrumental in the continued suffering of innocent children and the continued impunity enjoyed by child rapists in the Church. And because this moral inconsistency seems to be the spirit that guides the Church he left behind, there really is no one else better suited for sainthood than the Blessed John Paul II.

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Why the Church allows Natural Birth Control (but not Contraception)

Reading certain passages from Humanae Vitae makes one wonder why the Church allows natural methods of birth control while remaining strongly opposed to the use of contraceptives:

This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act…

…an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.

Impairs the capacity to transmit life. ‘Impair’ is an active word, it is a commission and not just an omission. While abstaining from sex during the fertile period is really just an omission of a certain act in the transmission of life, it’s the counting of days since the wife’s last menstruation and the charting of her temperature to be sure she’s “safe” that constitutes the commission part. So why is natural family planning allowed? Recently released official documents of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-rate shed some light. The following is an excerpt from the minority report (click here for an article on the majority report) drafted by the Jesuit theologian John Ford with assistance from another Catholic theologian, Germain Grisez:


But is the objection really ‘nugatory’? (I had to look that up and it means “of little or no importance; trifling.”) Let us try to dissect that passage and examine it carefully:

The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
Having intercourse during the infertile period does not prevent the beginning of new life… Using science to determine exactly when that infertile period comes and deliberately scheduling all sexual activity within that period does prevent the beginning of new life.


The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
[during the infertile period]…the couple do not have intercourse to prevent conception but for the sake of some other good. Couples using contraception also do not have intercourse to prevent conception but for the sake of some other good, which is intimacy.


The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
The “pill” or some mechanical or chemical device does prevent conception, but these are not themselves the conjugal act. Charting to find that infertile period to avoid pregnancy is also not itself the conjugal act.


The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
Rather they are interventions in the conjugal act. The “conjugal act” is the sexual intercourse itself and not the procreative consequence of such act. How then, does contraception intervene with the conjugal act?


The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
Using a thermometer does not prevent conception. It does, by making sure she’s “safe”.


The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
The couple who use the infertile period do nothing that would deprive even a single conjugal act of its power of generating a new life.


They may be doing nothing contraceptive during that single conjugal act, but they sure did something beforehand to make sure that such act would be powerless in generating a life.

The only difference between artificial and natural methods of birth control is the timing, that is, when the act of birth control takes place. In natural family planning the method is applied before intercourse while in contraception it is during intercourse (the pill may be taken before intercourse but its effects are present during intercourse). But the intent is the same: to isolate the unitive significance from the procreative significance of the marriage act (in non-ecclesiastical language that means to enjoy sex without getting someone pregnant). As Igme once said, “What is the difference between ejaculating sperm in latex and ejaculating it in a uterus in its monthly off switch? The intent is the same!

In case the similarity is still not clear, let us use an analogy about releasing baby turtles into the sea. Let’s try to find the difference between the two:

a. Building a concrete wall along the beach to prevent the turtles from reaching the ocean

b. Releasing the turtles when the tide is out and the sun is scorching hot and the only shade under which the baby turtles can get protection from the deadly heat is from the shadows of hungry sea gulls flying overhead

In both cases the effect is the same: the baby turtles do not make it to the safety of the water, much less into adulthood. While the first is obviously a deliberately preventive act, the second, if we take a moment to think about it, turns out to be just as deliberately preventive. The concrete wall may be an artificial intervention in the life cycle of turtles, but the timing of the release during extremely unfavorable conditions is really just the same in terms of intent and effect, even if it merely takes advantage of “a faculty provided by nature.”

So why does the Church allow natural methods but not artificial ones? The only logical explanation I can think of is that the Church has a strong preference for – a complete obsession with – the adjective natural. And if this is the case, as it probably is (if you think I’m wrong there’s a comment section below), the following passage from Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene says it best:

It is a simple logical truth that, short of mass emigration into space, with rockets taking off at the rate of several million per second, uncontrolled birth-rates are bound to lead to horribly increased death-rates. It is hard to believe that this simple truth is not understood by those leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods. They express a preference for ‘natural’ methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation.

And since starvation is natural for as long as we simply allow women to bear babies into a world where there is not enough food without actively robbing them of their food, there should be nothing intrinsically evil about it. Children dying of hunger and disease are just succumbing to a population control faculty provided by nature, and maybe that’s why the Church seems more concerned about sperm cells slamming against the wall of a condom, ending their lives in an unnatural rubbery death – while millions still wouldn’t make it to the egg, much less to the womb, even without any form of birth control.

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Women degraded, treated as objects

One of the arguments we often hear from anti-RH apologists is that if contraceptives are made widely available, women will be degraded and treated as objects. Take the following for example:

A sex act which is not open to the transmission of new life tends to treat the other partner as a source of physical pleasure, and nothing more.

…human nature being what it is, when contraception is available, men are more likely to treat women as objects of pleasure.

And here is a comment from a pro-lifer:

When we have seen our families crumble, our women degraded, treated as objects, our society disintegrate, then maybe, just maybe, we would really have something to think about.

They all echo what Pope Paul VI said in Humanae Vitae:

…a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

But why would contraception reduce women to objects? Are they claiming that the only sacred purpose of sex is procreation, hence, without it, the intimate act between two people deeply in love with each other becomes nothing more than carnal pleasure? More importantly, are they saying that women have no say on how they are treated and that the respect they get (or don’t get) is purely dependent on their men? Is this how they view women? Reading some passages from a book they deem infallible might shed some light:

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed – Exodus 21:7-8, (RSV)

If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, “I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,”…if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.  – Deuteronomy 22:13-14, 20-21 (RSV)

And so it is of little wonder that fundamentalists are so concerned that contraception will degrade our women. A religion that commissions men to sell their own daughters into slavery and prescribes stoning to death as punishment for non-virgin brides surely does not think much highly of women. (And in case somebody blurts out something like, But that was only in the Old Testament, let me quote something from the New Testament: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” – 2 Timothy 3:16.)
And for a religion to own such scripture, what can we reasonably expect on how it will regard the women? I guess not much. They warn about the dangers of contraception to a woman’s honor, but what they fail to see is that they aren’t giving much honor to their women to begin with. To equate a woman’s honor to her virginity and ability to bear her husband’s children without enjoying sex too much lest she turn into a slut not only mocks her dignity but denies her womanhood. It actively refuses to recognize a big part of her nature – that she is made of flesh and blood and endowed with human passions along with the capacity to nurture these passions responsibly. And to deny these passions for the sake of chastity, to unfairly impose such denial by the authority of some religious dogma, that is a clear example of women being degraded and treated as objects, reigned in by the wills of men with double standards.
A group of eternal bachelors referred to by an ominously sounding acronym (at least to the ears of our politicians) has in a way institutionalized the degradation of women. Somehow they seem oblivious to the fact that women are thinking, breathing minds living in warm, sensitive bodies. Not surprisingly, the musician Billy Joel, who was married – and divorced – three times, seems to be centuries ahead in the evolution of moral standards, clearly manifested in his reverence and fascination towards a woman and her carefree, independent ways:
Oh–she takes care of herself
She can wait if she wants
She’s ahead of her time
Oh–and she never gives out
And she never gives in
She just changes her mind

She is frequently kind
And she’s suddenly cruel
She can do as she pleases
She’s nobody’s fool
And she can’t be convicted
She’s earned her degree
And the most she will do
Is throw shadows at you
But she’s always a woman to me

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Talking to Death

A fictional face-off between Aquino and bishops

A fictional face-off between Aquino and bishops

The common sexist notion is that women talk too much. But on the issue of reproductive health, a bachelors’ club and a bachelor president may well be gearing up to talk each other to death.

I’m talking of course about the CBCP bishops and President Aquino. Listen to the palace’s spokesman and pray tell if you can detect any sense of urgency: “As you know we still have a dialogue with the bishops on the end of February. We committed to propose a responsible parenthood bill with inputs from the dialogue. … The President will limit his power to certify measures as urgent based on what is stated in the Constitution. It refers only to emergency cases. So most likely, [the RP bill] will not be certified as urgent.”

But really, what can these bachelors with palaces talk and agree about?

The bishops are sworn to obey the pope and Humanae Vitae—they can’t agree to any law that includes artificial contraception as a choice, even if it’s called “The Most Sacred, Blessed and Responsible Parenthood Within Holy Matrimony Act.”

The president has sworn to a Constitution where human rights and Church-and-State separation are fundamental principles. His idea that informed choice must be central to family planning is a mere reiteration of constitutional tenets. He cannot endorse the bishops’ NFP-only doctrine without junking his “daang matuwid” (honourable path) and following his predecessor’s hobby of trashing our basic law.

And so we had mighty men glaring at each other the last few months. A tense deadlock, dramatically broken when the most powerful of them all decided… to talk some more.

Poor mothers and infants die each day, half from pregnancies unplanned, others due to simple RH services unavailable. Will bachelors with palaces notice or care?

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The disturbing politics behind the Church’s anti-contraceptive stand

In a previous post I mentioned that the real reason why the Roman Catholic Church is against contraceptives is Humanae Vitae, a 1968 encyclical written by Pope Paul VI insisting that sex must be kept open to the transmission of life. While the infallibility of such encyclicals may already be questionable to non-Catholics and even to liberal Catholics, what is more disturbing is how Humanae Vitae got promulgated even if the majority of the members of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control proposed that “artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed“, as stated in the majority report:

The acceptance of a lawful application of the calculated sterile periods of the woman–that the application is legitimate presupposes right motives–makes a separation between the sexual act which is explicitly intended and its reproductive effect which is intentionally excluded.

Here the Commission acknowledges that even the “accepted” natural methods of birth control deliberately try to separate the unitive from the procreative purpose of sex.

The tradition has always rejected seeking this separation with a contraceptive intention for motives spoiled by egoism and hedonism, and such seeking can never be admitted. The true opposition is not to be sought between some material conformity to the physiological processes of nature and some artificial intervention.

My understanding here is that there is no difference between “material conformity to the physiological processes of nature” (i.e., scheduling sex based on the wife’s fertility cycle to make sure she doesn’t get pregnant) and using contraceptives.

For it is natural to man to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature.

Whether by slipping a condom or counting the days since his wife’s last mentruation, man is using his skill to put nature under his control.

The opposition is really to be sought between one way of acting which is contraceptive and opposed to a prudent and generous fruitfulness, and another way which is, in an ordered relationship to responsible fruitfulness and which has a concern for education and all the essential, human and Christian values.

The Commission is saying that what’s important is to distinguish between hedonistic sex and responsible family planning. In short, what matters is the intent, not the method.

Nevertheless, Pope Paul VI “explicitly rejected his commission’s recommendations in the text of Humanae Vitae, noting the 72 member commission had not been unanimous (4 theologian priests had dissented, and 1 cardinal and 2 bishops had voted that contraception was intrinsically evil–significantly Cardinal Ottaviani, the commission’s president and Bishop Colombo, the papal theologian).

But the real reason for Pope Paul’s rejection may be a lot more disturbing. In an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao talked about a book titled Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church” written by an insider, Robert McClory. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an online version of the book and so I hope the readers will forgive me for quoting heavily from Tiglao’s article since contraception is a very hot issue today and the message couldn’t wait until I’ve read the book.

The overwhelming majority in the commission concluded that artificial birth control did not violate the Church’s teachings, and that Catholic couples should decide for themselves what methods to use. However, a Jesuit theologian wrote a dissenting report, signed by three other theologian-priests, a bishop and—this proved to be most crucial—by the ultra-conservative Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. It was Ottaviani who is said to have single-handedly convinced Pope Paul VI to reject the pro-contraceptive report signed by the 70-plus members of the commission, and instead adopt the dissenting report of just six members, that the Church should label artificial contraceptives as intrinsically evil.

Ottaviani was the most influential cardinal in the 1963 Papal Conclave, which elected as pope the bishop of Milan Giovanni Batista Montini, who assumed the name Paul VI. It was solely Ottaviani who was authorized to announce to the world the election of the new pope, whose Humanae Vitae encyclical set in stone the Church’s uncompromising stand against artificial.

The picture that emerges is as follows: Like all politicians, Ottaviani reminded Paul VI that he, indisputably the most powerful prince of the Church then, helped him become pope, so that he should therefore take his advice to reject the commission’s majority report. Pope Paul VI gave in, thinking that the Second Vatican Council was the more important battle, instead of contraceptive use, which wasn’t after all, a burning issue at that time. Ottaviani’s “Semper idem” abhorrence of contraceptives became the Church dogma, and succeeding popes never dared reverse a predecessor’s encyclical.

Ottaviani passed away in 1979, and his ultra-conservative bloc in the Church that wanted it to remain in the medieval world view weakened to insignificance. His legacy—or his curse—lives on though, most prominently in our country.

And that, my friends, is how all this mess began. The Church teaches that Humanae Vitae as well as every other Catholic dogma is infallible because it comes from divine revelation as the Holy Spirit descends on the pope. It seems now that such dogma had been conceived with less spirit and more politics, to the detriment not only of the faithful, but the rest of the Filipinos.

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Age of Reason finally dawns on the Philippines

When citizens and politicians start publicly opposing the Church on an issue as serious to the Catholic doctrine as contraception, one cannot help but imagine that the Age of Reason is finally coming to our country. And when a Catholic priest himself says that reason cannot be substituted by dogma, it seems there may really be hope for a true separation of Church and State after all.

Chairman of the Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy Panel of the Philippine Judicial Academy Fr. Ranhilio C. Aquino wrote in Manila Standard Today a very interesting article titled Excommunication and other issues. On the proposed dialogue between Malacañang and the CBCP, Fr. Aquino expressed skepticism it will work:

It is necessary that our Republic be neutral in matters of religion—and in that sense, secular.  In fact, the public sphere should be secular because religious dogmas, especially when they are exalted to the level of “mystery”, are notoriously opaque when it comes to verification and criticism. I am not saying that there are no mysteries; but you cannot invoke them in public discourse, except with others of similar persuasion.

The bishops and the supposedly secular government are on very different planes, the former insisting that their dogma is infallible and applies to everyone and the latter presenting facts and logic to say it isn’t so. Fr. Aquino continues:

Given the pluralism of our times, different persuasions thrive, and so there is no way that one can vindicate claims by invoking mysteries.

Take that, CBCP! And those were not the words of a secularist; they came from within your very own clergy.

If the Catholic Church rejects the reproductive health bill because artificial means of contraception will be readily available under the aegis of such a law, then it should rightly be asked: What does the Catholic Church have against artificial means of contraception?  If the only response the Church can give is “Humanae Vitae” and the consistent teaching of the popes and of most (certainly not all!) bishops, then that is not good enough an argument for the public sphere.

Indeed. If all they can say is that in 1968 God revealed to Pope Paul VI that sex must be kept open to procreation and that it is an abomination to isolate the unitive from the procreative purpose of sex, they cannot expect everyone to believe that. And if they say that Humanae Vitae is infallible because it was issued ex-cathedra, that won’t work either considering how science and history have shown how human fallibility exempts no one, not even the popes.

On the other hand, it is silly to demand of the Catholic Church that it “adjust” its moral teaching to suit populist tastes.

Of course, and that’s what true separation means: the State leaves the Church alone to preach to its own members whatever it wishes; the Church leaves the State alone to deliberate which laws would best serve the citizens.

And if the Church wants its own members to keep listening amidst the growing voice of Reason in the Philippines, the leaders should also try to hear what Fr. Aquino has to say:

At the present, that is what I find wanting: a truly coherent presentation of the Catholic position against artificial contraception that can meet with the approval of all of its members engaging in rational discourse as equals—whose voices are not silenced because they wear no miters on their heads!  Perhaps this is the opportune time for us in the Catholic Church to revisit the matter, to take one more look at our premises and to ask about their dependability.

And perhaps this is an opportune time for the State as well to truly assert its independence. As Jose Ma. Montelibano said in his article The Church Has Lost Her Dominance, “The Church has used fear, it has used force, yet lost. It may try to use attraction, may try to raise its credibility, it may try to be the voice more of conscience rather than edict. It is not too late, but it is very late.”

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Church and Contraceptives: Stripping off the Rationalizations

Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae "On the Regulation of Birth" in 1968

A few days ago the CBCP issued a statement exhorting the proposed bills on sex education and reproductive health, saying that “the foundation of the moral society is a central religious truth” and that “to disregard moral and religious truths…is to be defenseless to the onslaught of corruption.”

At first I thought about refuting those claims by challenging the following:

  1. the credibility of the CBCP as guardian of morality considering the scandals within the clergy’s own ranks
  2. the unspoken assumption that the pope from whom the church gets its dogma is a true recipient and infallible interpreter of divine revelation
  3. the unspoken assumption that their particular brand of deity/Lawgiver exists

But then I realized that others have already done that so I moved on to another part of the CBCP statement and found the following assertions:

a. The failures (sic) rates of contraceptives against sexually transmitted diseases are high.

b. Oral contraceptive pills are classified as Group I carcinogenic, i.e., “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity.”

c. With its very liberal sex education programs and its aggressive attitude in pushing contraceptives and condoms for safe sex, the United States still has the highest teen birth rate, 93.0 per 1000, and one of the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) among teens in the industrialized world.

Again I considered countering these assertions or at least putting them into proper perspective but I figured that my fellow freethinkers could do a better job and so I started a thread in the FF forum and I am very greatful for their insights.

The debate on contraception has become convoluted with all these talks of morality, STDs, and poverty that we’ve digressed from the real issue: More than 40 years ago a pope wrote in an encyclical deemed infallible that ‎”an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.”

Now unless someone comes up with a sophisticated interpretation, I guess the bottom line here is that sex must be kept open for procreation. Lest we muddle the issue with arguments on contraceptive pills that have an abortifacient effect no matter how improbable, let us narrow it down by using condoms as a concrete example, particularly the use of condoms between married couples versus natural family planning. Since the CBCP condemns the former but approves the latter, one is compelled to ask if it isn’t against Humanae Vitae to have sex during the wife’s infertile period considering they are using this “divine gift while depriving it…of its meaning and purpose”. I couldn’t have said it better than fellow freethinker Igme:

What is the difference between ejaculating sperm in latex and ejaculating it in a uterus in its monthly off switch? The intent is the same!

In both cases, the intent is to enjoy the divine gift of sex while depriving it of its procreational purpose. Again, it would be interesting to hear those elaborate arguments that would tell me I’m interpreting Humanae Vitae literally (and incorrectly), because it seems that those statements about condoms being ineffective in preventing the spread of STDs and contraceptives promoting immorality are all just rationalizations to protect the claim that a pope is infallible once he speaks ex-cathedra, which was the case when he wrote the encyclical.

Once we strip off these rationalizations, the real issue becomes clear. Condoms vs. rhythm. Both make sex possible while denying God’s procreational design. So why ban the former but not the latter? I think the answer on condoms is simple: it’s forbidden in Humanae Vitae. However, I’m not so sure why the Church allows rhythm, but I hope my assumption is wrong that they’re simply concerned they might start losing followers once they took away too much of a married couple’s carnal pleasures.

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Humanae Vitae Limerick

It was one of those cool rainy nights
When they’d just kissed and made up from a fight
They started to hug
When their loins felt that sensual tug
And his hand reached out to kill the lights.
As he gently laid and caressed her in bed
She opened up to him with arms and legs spread
But then she had to remember
It was the fifth of September
And her excitement was soon replaced with dread.
“We can’t do it now,” said she
“’Cause I’m at the peak of fertility
No wonder I’m so hot
And yearning a lot
But we can’t afford to have another baby.”
“I’ll wear something,” he replied
Why should this union be denied?
They were lawfully married
And his wife he lovingly fancied
Even long before she became his bride.
“No,” he couldn’t believe he heard her say
“It is forbidden in Humanae Vitae
Sex must be kept open to procreation
Pope Paul said it’s divine revelation
And contraception will lead us astray.”

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Should There Be An Absolute Moral Standard?

I was reading through Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae on the Regulation of Birth when I saw the following passage:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

At first glance that may look like it actually makes sense, but let us try to break it down and tear it apart.

1. “Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”

The key issue here is the term ‘moral law’, which unfortunately does not have a very definite definition:

Moral law is a system of guidelines for behavior. These guidelines may or may not be part of a religion, codified in written form, or legally enforceable. For some people moral law is synonymous with the commands of a divine being. For others, moral law is a set of universal rules that should apply to everyone.

Obviously the Church focuses on the “moral law is synonymous with the commands of a divine being” part, insisting not only that they are the sole recipient and interpreter of divine ‘revelation’, but that they actually hold the patent for morality. But what gives them the right to do so? Their claims are all hearsay and circular. And look at how their own ranks fared in terms of morality. Once the light of reason shines on the perceived moral authority of the Church, the things they so strongly denounce – contraceptives and free sex – become a matter of personal choice for the individual. Some may make less responsible choices than others, but the basis for what will be deemed ‘responsible’ is the careful collective reflection of an evolving society and not the absolute word of self-proclaimed leaders.

2. “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman…”

Does wearing a condom mean that one has forgotten the reverence due to a woman? On the contrary, it shows the respect and care to the woman’s health and preferred reproductive status – even at the cost of reduced pleasure.

3. “…and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires…”

I think the women are more equipped to answer this. Does the Church really think that women are robots without their own sexual desires? Just like men, they too need to satisfy these desires every now and then to maintain emotional equilibrium. That’s what they mean when they tell someone acting bitchy that she needs to get laid.

4. “…no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

Is the mutual act of constantly satisfying each other’s sexual needs not a manifestation of care and affection between partners? And how can you surround her with care and affection if you need to avoid getting horny during the woman’s fertile period? When the wife is cooking his favorite dish, the husband will now hesitate to give her an affectionate hug from behind as an expression of gratefulness for the meal, because certain body parts might brush against each other and lead them to conceive another child – or break ‘moral law’ by using contraception.

In a diverse and evolving society, an absolute standard of morality simply doesn’t work. First, no matter how the Church claims that their laws were ‘revealed’ by God, this is actually hearsay and might as well be concocted by fallible men for their own agenda. Second, implementation is impossible to large populations, as even the leaders themselves bungle up.

Interestingly, we can observe another organizational approach from nature. Here is a passage from Michael Crichton’s novel Prey that explains how large numbers of the lower animals effectively achieve order and harmony without leaders telling them what to do:

Human beings expected to find a central command in any organization. States had governments. Corporations had CEOs. Schools had principals. Armies had generals. Human beings tended to believe that without central command, chaos would overwhelm the organization and nothing significant could be accomplished. From this standpoint, it was difficult to believe that extremely stupid creatures with brains smaller than pinheads were capable of construction projects more complicated than any human project. But in fact, they were.

African termites were a classic example. These insects made earthen castlelike mounds a hundred feet in diameter and thrusting spires twenty feet into the air. To appreciate their accomplishment, you had to imagine that if termites were the size of people, these mounds would be skyscrapers one mile high and five miles in diameter. And like a skyscraper, the termite mound had an intricate internal architecture to provide fresh air, remove excess CO2 and heat, and so on. Inside the structure were gardens to grow food, residences for royalty, and living space for as many as two million termites. No two mounds were exactly the same; each was individually constructed to suit the requirements and advantages of a particular site. All this was accomplished with no architect, no foreman, no central authority. Nor was a blueprint for construction encoded in the termite genes. Instead these huge creations were the result of relatively simple rules that the individual termites followed in relation to one another. (Rules like, “If you smell that another termite has been here, put a dirt pellet on this spot.”) Yet the outcome was arguably more complex than any human creation.

Most people watching a flock of birds or a school of fish assumed there was a leader, and that all the other animals followed the leader. That was because human beings, like most social mammals, had group leaders. But birds and fish had no leaders. Their groups weren’t organized that way. Careful study of flocking behavior—frame-by-frame video analysis—showed that, in fact, there was no leader. Birds and fish responded to a few simple stimuli among themselves, and the result was coordinated behavior. But nobody was controlling it. Nobody was leading it. Nobody was directing it. Nor were individual birds genetically programmed for flocking behavior. Flocking was not hard-wired. There was nothing in the bird brain that said, “When thus-and-such happens, start flocking.” On the contrary, flocking simply emerged within the group as a result of much simpler, low-level rules. Rules like, “Stay close to the birds nearest you, but don’t bump into them.” From those rules, the entire group flocked in smooth coordination.

A flock of birds with a population of thousands will move as if it were a single organism, with virtually no collision between birds. Now imagine if there was a single leader, a dozen generals, and a few hundred lieutenants all chirping out orders on how fast to fly and what direction to take. Even if these birds were equipped with GPS and radios to track and communicate with the individual members, such attempts at centralized command will only result in a fatal breakup of the formation.

As for morality, look at where the attempts at establishing an absolute moral standard have brought us. Overpopulation and poverty are an inescapable reality, and so is the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. All because of a letter deemed absolute and infallible, written by a pope more than four decades ago. And I guess this leads us to ask: Should there be an absolute moral standard, and should moral authority be centralized?

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