My talk will not be long. In this talk I will focus on why it is urgent that we work hard so that the House Bill 4244 or the so called Reproductive Health Bill will not be passed by Congress and the Senate. I will also explain and refute the ideas on which those who are in favor of the HB 4244 base themselves.
Before anything else I would like to remind ourselves of the broader or complete meaning of pro-life advocacy. We should defend and promote life from the womb to the tomb in all stages of life. Here I would like to quote lengthily from the encyclical letter of Blessed John Paul II, “Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, No. 3”“Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).
Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator".
The paragraphs that follow in the same encyclical letter are concerned with the pro-life advocacy in its narrower sense. And this is the meaning that we give to Pro-life advocacy in our fight against contraception, abortion, euthanasia, etc. Pardon me for again quoting lengthily from Evangelium Vitae, No. 4
“Unfortunately, this disturbing state of affairs, far from decreasing, is expanding: with the new prospects opened up by scientific and technological progress there arise new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human being. At the same time a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a new and-if possible-even more sinister character, giving rise to further grave concern: broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom, and on this basis they claim not only exemption from punishment but even authorization by the State, so that these things can be done with total freedom and indeed with the free assistance of health-care systems.
All this is causing a profound change in the way in which life and relationships between people are considered. The fact that legislation in many countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles of their Constitutions, has determined not to punish these practices against life, and even to make them altogether legal, is both a disturbing symptom and a significant cause of grave moral decline. Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable. Even certain sectors of the medical profession, which by its calling is directed to the defense and care of human life, are increasingly willing to carry out these acts against the person. In this way the very nature of the medical profession is distorted and contradicted, and the dignity of those who practice it is degraded. In such a cultural and legislative situation, the serious demographic, social and family problems which weigh upon many of the world's peoples and which require responsible and effective attention from national and international bodies, are left open to false and deceptive solutions, opposed to the truth and the good of persons and nations.
The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.”
The main reason why the Catholic Church is against the HB 4244 is the fact that it will compel the Government to promote contraception and use public money (billions of pesos) to do so. Aside from the harmful medical effects of contraceptives, the use of contraceptives is immoral, that is, against the law of God. I will not anymore elaborate why contraception is immoral. It is important and urgent that we stop the passage of HB 4244 because, from the experience of other countries, once contraception is promoted by a government, approval of abortion, euthanasia, divorce, same sex marriage follows. Approval of HB 4244 is like opening the floodgate to these other immoral practices.
In this talk, I would like to point out that those who are moving that these immoral practices be approved by law are imbued by more or less the same wrong ideas and principles. They use these wrong principles to promote and justify these anti-life practices.
- Relativism: According to Benedict XVI, “A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the “I” and its whims as the ultimate measure.” Relativism says that there are no universal truths, which are true always and everywhere. Everything is relative. Truth depends on your situation, on the way you see things. Ultimately it means truth is what I think is true. I have “my own truth.” You have “your own truth.” There is no truth that all must accept.
If everyone has his own truth, then this will lead to chaos. When there is a conflict of truths (my truth, your truth, his truth) what usually happens is that one imposes his own truth on others. Finally, this will lead to the rule of the most powerful.
But there is only one truth that is based on reality, which we arrived at by right reason. This truth which is objective, that is, conforming to reality, is the criterion we should use to settle our differences when our truths are in conflict.
People who subscribe to relativism say that contraception is not always evil. Whether it is moral or immoral depends on the situation or motive of the person doing it. This is against the teaching of the Church which says that contraception is intrinsically evil, that is, it is evil in itself, or evil by its nature. No circumstance or motive can make it good. It is always evil. “Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." (Veritatis Splendor, No. 80)
With regard to contraception, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say: “…..every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2370)
- Wrong Notion of Freedom of Conscience:
Those who support HB 4244 say something like this: I have freedom of conscience. I have a right to follow my conscience. If I think that a teaching of the Church is wrong, then I have not to follow it.
Conscience is defined as the practical judgment of reason upon an individual act as good and to be performed or as evil and to be avoided.
There are two levels of conscience, that is,
a)synderesis: This is the knowledge of the first general principles of morality, like “Do good and avoid evil,” “Do not kill,” etc. on which we base our judgment on the goodness or “evilness” of individualAccording to St. Paul (Romans, 2:14-15) and St. Basil, these first principles of morality have been implanted by God on our hearts.
b)Conscience in the strict sense:
As already expressed above, this is the practical judgment of reason upon an individual act as good and to be performed or as evil and to be avoided. Conscience in the strict sense applies our basic knowledge of the general moral principles (synderesis) to a particular situation, to an individual act.
Freedom of conscience does not mean that we have the right to decide on the goodness or “evilness” of an act in any way we like. Freedom is not the right to do whatever we like. Freedom is the right to do what we ought. What we ought to do is linked to what is true and what is good. So, freedom of conscience is the right to decide in accordance to what is true and what is good. Freedom of conscience includes the obligation to do our best to have a correct conscience, that is, a conscience that is conforming to the truth, a conscience that does not run counter to what is good.
It is true that we have the obligation to follow what our conscience tells us before we act. Conscience is the proximate norm of morality. But we also have the obligation to try our best to have a correct conscience. For us Catholics, as members of the Catholic Church, we believe that a correct conscience is one that is in conformity with the teaching of the Church, with the moral teaching of the magisterium. “As members of the Church, all Catholics are obliged to shape our consciences in accord with the moral teaching of the Church.” (On Responsibilities of the Catholics in Public Life, statement issued by the U.S. bishops’ conference.)
The magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. It is composed of the Pope and the bishops. We believe what Our Lord Jesus Christ told Peter and the apostles: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) or “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20). The Pope and the bishops are the successors of Peter and the apostles. “…the Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf. Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it. (Veritatis Splendor, No. 64)
- Secularism: In simple words, it means that religion (God) or the Church has no place in public life, in government, in laws, in public education, in public debates, etc. Religion is a private affair. It should limit itself to the sacristy.
Many of those who support the HB 4244 are basing themselves on this intolerant secularism. They say that the Church has no right to participate in the making of laws of government because of the principle of the separation of Church and State. This principle means that the state has no right to intervene into the beliefs and doctrines of any religious denomination and that the state should not have an official religion (state religion). It also means that the state should not favor one religion over another. The Philippine Constitution does not prohibit any group of citizens, civic or religious, to express, promote, or campaign so that their views on what is good for the country and for the individual person be accepted by society and have an influence on the laws of the country. If atheists can, why not those who believe in God? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its “Doctrinal Note regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life” tells us that all citizens, including Catholics, have the right “to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good.” It says further; “It is not the task of Church’s task to set forth specific political solutions – and even less to propose a single solution as the acceptable one – to temporal questions that God has left to the free and responsible judgment of each person. It is, however, the Church’s right and duty to provide a moral judgment on temporal matters when this is required by faith or the moral law.”
Man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality. Our Christian Faith gives us the true meaning of man and our world. It provides a firm foundation for the duty to respect the dignity of man and his basic rights and the duty to contribute to the common good. For us, Christians, every man has to be respected and loved because he was created in the image of God and called to be a child of God, participating in God’s own life. In history, many regimes or governments that rejected God in their laws and policies ended disastrously. We can cite the regime of Hitler and the Nazis (totalitarianism and racism) and that of Stalin (atheistic communism, Marxism) that ended up in the murder of millions due to their lack of respect for the dignity of the human person. Their rejection of God, the Creator and Lawgiver, led to their rejection of the dignity of every human person. Senator Adlai Stevenson, a former candidate for president in the United States, said: “Communism is a corruption of a dream of justice.”
Here it is good to quote Benedict XVI in his book, Jesus of Nazareth: “The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.” When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing. It is not just the negative outcome of the Maxist experiment that proves this…. The issue is the primacy of God. The issue is acknowledging that he is a reality, that he is the reality without which nothing else can be good. History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines. If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good, either. And the goodness of the human heart can ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself.”
- False notion of pluralism or religious freedom:
One of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why the Catholic Church is against the House Bill 4244 (Reproductive Health Bill or Responsible Parenthood Bill) is that the bill directs the government to promote contraception and to give free contraceptives to people. According to a columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, this opposition of the Church is against religious freedom. He says that, because of religious freedom, “the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their beliefs nor may churchmen compel President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief.”
First of all, by opposing the RH Bill, the Catholic Church is not moving for the ban of contraceptives (the non-abortifacient ones), although she would be happy if these contraceptives were banned. At present, in the Philippines, anyone can buy contraceptives from drugstores and even from some “convenience stores”. What the Church is against, I repeat, is that government should promote contraception and provide free contraceptives to people. Therefore it is wrong to say that the Church wants the government to “prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief” and that the Catholic churchmen are compelling “President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious beliefs.” What the church does is to try to convince President Aquino and our senators and congressmen not to enact a law that directs the government to promote contraception and provide free contraceptives to people.
It is also good to point out that the church teaching regarding contraceptives is not based on Faith or revelation, although it is confirmed by our Faith. This church teaching is based on natural law, which we know through natural reason. By studying through correct reasoning the nature of the human person, we arrive at this teaching regarding contraception. All human beings, Catholic or not, are obliged to act according to right reason. By the efforts of the Church to go against the RH Bill, the Church is not imposing her religious beliefs on others. She is trying to stop a bill which is against natural law, a law which all human beings, Catholic or not, should follow. The RH Bill, judged from the principles of natural law, is against the good of the human person and the common good. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its “Doctrinal Note regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life” tells us that all citizens, including Catholics, have the right “to base their contribution to society and political life – through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy – on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good.” In a democracy, any group of citizens has the right to campaign and lobby so that what they consider to be good for the country are enacted into law and what they deem to be harmful for the country are not enacted into law.
The columnist says further in his column that we live in a pluralist society. This is true and, therefore, we should respect the beliefs and opinions of others. But there is a limit to this pluralism. We cannot accept an “ethical pluralism “which ignores the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every outlook on life were of equal value.” (Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life)
The columnist also quotes the “Compendum on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church: “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups” and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.” The Church, by opposing the HB 4244, is “interpreting the common good of the country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.” In opposing the bill the Church is interpreting the common good according to the guidelines of natural law, which is valid for all, the minority as well as the majority. Benedict XVI says that natural law must be the foundation of democracy, so that those in power are not given the chance to determine what is good or evil [Zenit.org. Vatican City, Oct. 5, 2007].
Regarding freedom, Benedict XVI said in his Address to the International Congress on Natural Law: “…yet taking into account that human freedom is always a freedom shared with others, it is clear that the harmony of freedom can be found only in what is common to all: the truth of the human being, the fundamental message of being itself, exactly the “lex naturalis.”
It is urgent that we fight against these false ideas and principles. They are used by people as a justification for their promotion of the anti-life bills. Because of these ideas, they exclude morality in the making of laws. They only consider what is utilitarian or convenient as their criterion in making laws. These ideas are already prevalent in Europe and in the United States. They are coming to the Philippines. Let us pray and work that these ideas will not be accepted by our people.
Most Rev. Gabriel V. Reyes, D.D.
Bishop of Antipolo