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Friday, June 19, 2009

Is It Morally Licit For A Catholic Politician To Vote For A Law Favoring Artificial Contraception?

(This essay was written in 2005 in response to House Bill 3773, which embodied morally offensive legislative proposals that are reproduced by House Bill 5403. The question that is examined and answered here -- whether it is morally licit for Catholic politicians to vote for pro-contraceptive legislation -- remains as relevant in 2009 as in 2005.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Is It Morally Licit For A Catholic Politician To Vote For A Law Favoring Artificial Contraception?
Jose Maria P. Alcasid

The burning question that Catholic legislators need to answer in face of HB 3773
House Bill 3773, also known as The Population Management and Responsible Parenthood Act of 2005 introduced in the 13th Philippine Congress by the Honorable Edcel Lagman of Albay province, has spurred much debate in the news media recently. Concerned Filipinos, both in public and private sectors, have voiced out their apprehensions regarding the proposed controversial legislation. Like an apple of discord lobbed in the arena of public opinion, the issue has now galvanized an erstwhile apathetic Filipino audience.
As one sifts through the gobbledygook of the various provisions contained in the said bill, one cannot fail but notice the broad spectrum of sweeping yet dubious revolutionary reforms detailed within. The distribution of artificial contraceptives; the call for mandatory safe sex education; the advocacy for reproductive rights that smacks of radical feminism; the promotion of a discriminatory two-child policy; the implementation of Draconian measures to punish “errant” health workers and the creation of a superfluous Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Council are just some of the provisions crammed into a single onerous and all-encompassing bill. One can only wonder how such a complex and ambitious project would be funded given the financial crisis the Philippine government has had to grapple with nowadays.
However, while manifold moral issues are involved, the controversy primarily revolves around the principal question of artificial contraception – the main thrust of the population management and responsible parenthood offensive.
And true to their mission of teaching, governing and sanctifying the Church, Catholic bishops have come out with solicitous concern to remind their flock of their Christian duty to follow the Church’s crystal clear teaching over this raging issue.[1]
The Church’s Condemnation of Contraception Is Unchangeable and Infallible [2]
The Catholic Church’s perennial moral teaching regarding artificial contraception is that it is intrinsically evil. Hence, the Church has always condemned contraception even for prophylactic or therapeutic purposes. Through the Church’s traditional Magisterium, the most recent popes, from Pius XI (1922-1939) to John Paul II, have invariably taught this doctrine despite growing opposition from dissident and liberal Catholics.
Basing themselves on natural law established by God when He created man and woman, these popes teach that the primary purpose of the sexual act is procreation. Hence, any attempt to separate the sexual act from its natural effect – procreation – violates nature itself and comprises a grave sin. The unitive aspect of the conjugal act – love between the spouses – and its procreative nature constitute a coherent whole that should never be separated.
The popes have always denounced contraceptive use – both chemical (e.g. oral contraceptives) and mechanical (e.g. the condom) – as gravely illicit whether the intention is specifically to avoid offspring or to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
In his pastoral letter In Obedience to Christ: A Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians on the Issue of Contraception, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, then bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska in the United States, shed light on the matter,The ban on contraception is not a disciplinary law of the Church, like abstinence of Friday, which the Church can enact and which the Church can dispense for good reasons. Rather, it is a divine law which the Church cannot change any more than it can change the law of God forbidding murder…. Because contraception is intrinsically evil, it may never be practiced for any reason[3]
This Church teaching condemning contraception is infallible through the ordinary pontifical Magisterium of the Church, that is to say, the common and constant teaching of the Popes.[4]
Had the Church been remiss in Her duty to teach the Truth in all its integrity, She would not be infallible. Neither would She be an adequate instrument for salvation, since She would have led the faithful to sin, to the non-observance of the natural and revealed moral law.[5]
As for the condemnation of contraception by Pope Paul VI in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), some theologians state that it is infallible not only by the continuity of the ordinary Magisterium but also by papal infallibility itself.[6]
Catholics Must Affirm Their Faith In Their Public Lives
In face of this truth, Catholic legislators can no longer feign ignorance and give short shrift to these consistent and limpid pronouncements of the Vicars of Christ. As public figures, they have a moral obligation to uphold good morals and serve as role models for their constituents to emulate.
Filipino lawmakers should wisely follow the lead of American Catholic senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who made the following revealing statement in an interview,
"In order for Catholic politicians to be faithful to moral teachings, they must be held accountable. Their elite status in society should not let others be dissuaded from criticizing them if they behave in an unprincipled way. The only way that immoral politicians will change is if the public has the courage to confront them. Only then, will these politicians be forced to act morally….
In addition to being leaders in society, politicians are a reflection of society. Politicians have a duty to hold fast to moral principles in order to govern effectively".[7]
Thus, we must take our Catholic politicians to task by cautioning and reminding them to act responsibly and morally in their capacity as duly elected legislators in face of proposed HB 3773.
The Plague of Secularism and Turo-Turo Catholicism
Among Our LegislatorsHowever, imbued by the secularist spirit of our times, one finds certain Catholics who subscribe to a cafeteria Catholicism wherein they pick and choose from what they see as a dogmatic smorgasbord whatsoever doctrines and precepts that suit their personal beliefs and lifestyle. I dare adopt this description and incorporate it into local parlance as turo-turo Catholicism.
We often hear secularists argue that the Church must refrain from moral declarations that have repercussions in public life. Like a broken record, they parrot the oft-repeated yet already stale accusation of the Church meddling in public affairs and exerting undue pressure on voters during elections. This is nothing short of outrageous. Since to say that the Church may not make moral pronouncements that have political consequences is to say that the Church cannot promote morality or have jurisdiction over faith and morals. To a greater or lesser degree, every law has a moral dimension and no moral principle fails to somehow influence law.
Following The Dictates Of Conscience
Those who choose to go against the Church’s teachings on artificial contraception find a false sense of security in rationalizing that they only follow the dictates of their conscience. The philosophical premise that fuels this pseudo-morality purports that objective moral norms do not exist and the individual choice should determine human behavior.
Truly, man must follow his conscience. Nevertheless, this does not imply that each and every individual may freely choose whatever he well pleases. Conscience is not the source of morality. The objective norm of morality is God’s law known to us through our rational nature and by divine revelation. Therefore, though our conscience perceives the natural moral law and makes it present to us in order to guide us in our action, it does not create this law.[8]
In January 2003, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement addressed directly to politicians concerning the issue of abortion. Since artificial contraceptives have an abortifacient effect one can rightly apply this pronouncement accordingly to the case in point.[9] [10]
In part, it stated: Catholic politicians “have the right and duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard. Those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals….“
…By its interventions in this area, the Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it intends – as is its proper function – to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible.”[11]
Opening The Floodgates To A Moral Tsunami
Much is at stake should the proponents of HB 3773 succeed in legislating this bill into law. Above all, a grave responsibility rests upon the shoulders of our Catholic lawmakers. While the Filipino people have given them the mandate to rule, our legislators, in turn, must act judiciously and responsibly. It would be a defining moment wherein their true mettle would be made manifest.
Many foresee the passage of this bill as a groundbreaking step towards opening the floodgates to a virtual moral tsunami of abortion, sexual promiscuity, divorce, homosexual rights and same sex marriage. Those concerned cannot cross their arms complacently and simply watch our nation go to ruin.
Some argue that Catholic nations like Spain and Italy have now legalized contraception, abortion and divorce and that the Philippines should follow suit. However, the folly of these nations is not the standard of Christian morality.
Such faulty reasoning is not a valid reason for the Philippines to climb into the bandwagon of impiety and moral depravity. If our nation must swim against the tide of worldwide consensus for God’s sake, then so be it! It will to the Filipino nation’s glory to stand up for its Catholic Faith.[12]
To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected
Let us call upon our lawmakers to make a serious examination of conscience before they cast their vote in favor of House Bill 3773 because their choice will have long-lasting consequences on the lives of millions of Filipinos. We, as faithful Catholics, have the obligation and duty to resist them to their faces if they tread obstinately along the ruinous path of error especially in face of the crystalline and immutable teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.
Their destiny is in their hands. They are free to choose. But once they cast their vote, it will be etched forever in the Book of Life. And when they face the Supreme Legislator on Judgment Day, there will be no room for debate or excuses. For then and there, the whole Filipino nation shall be called to the witness stand.
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and inspirer of various other autonomous TFP’s across the globe, described the gravity of our earthly life with candid simplicity,
Whether we like it or not, we are all writing our biography. And on the Day of Judgment, the book will be opened and read.[13]
As we celebrate the feast of the Solemnity of the Annunciation (Monday, April 04, 2005) - the joyous occasion when the Word became Flesh in the sacred cloister of Mary Most Holy’s virginal womb - let us beseech her maternal and solicitous counsel to enlighten our most honorable legislators in their crucial task of deciding the fate of HB 3773. May she appease the Divine Wrath and call upon His Divine Mercy to have compassion on the Filipino nation whom He blessed with the light of the True Faith. May she strengthen her devoted sons and daughters in their unremitting resolve to uphold the Laws of her Divine Son and thus attract a plenitude of graces for the entire suffering Filipino nation.
[1] On February 18, 2005, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) came out with a pastoral letter against HB 3773 and the Department of Health’s (DOH) Ligtas Buntis program.
[2] This section adopts and quotes almost verbatim (including footnotes) from the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property’s (TFP) statement, Can the Church’s Infallible Doctrine Change? authored by Luis S. Solimeo and Raymond E. Drake. Please log on to to access the whole document.
[3]Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, In Obedience to Christ: A Pastoral Letter to Catholic Couples and Physicians on the Issue of Contraception, at
[4]In his study on the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, Fr. M. R. Gagnebet, O.P., summarizes the continuity of the supreme Magisterium of the Church on this matter: “Obviously the Pope intended to resolve a controversy which questions the time-honoured teaching of theologians approved by the Magisterium. On the same topic, Pius XII specifically stated, in the Encyclical Humani Generis (D. Sch. 3885), ‘this question is no longer open to the free discussion of theologians.’ Furthermore, Paul VI is not innovating in this matter. Without wishing to go further back into history, from the time of Pius VI, the teaching of the Holy See has never varied in this matter. In a particularly solemn manner, Pius XI propounded it in the Encyclical Casti Connubii; Pius XII, as well as John XXIII, taught it consistently. The council [Vatican II] did not touch this question set aside for the Sovereign Pontiff, but affirmed its underlying principle: ‘...sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law.’ (Gaudium et Spes, no. 51). Finally, the document in which the Pope expounds his teaching is an Encyclical; it is an authentic interpretation of the natural law which declares the use of marriage which is conformable to the law and that which is not.” “The Authority of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae,” at
[5]Cf. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., “Contraception: Fatal to the Faith,” at
[6] Cf. Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., book review of: Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità: il Concilio, Paolo VI e Giovanni Paolo II, by Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M. (Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, l986), at; Fr. Joseph H. Ryder, S.J., “Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae as an Infallible Definition of Doctrine,” Social Justice Review, at
[7]Taken from ZENIT’s interview of Senator Rick Santorum, Catholic senator from Pennsylvania. “Senator Santorum On Being Catholic And A Politician” 2003
[8] “Catholics Must Affirm Their Faith In Their Public Lives”, Crusade Magazine, Sept. - Oct. 2004, p.10-11.
[9]Colliton WF. Birth control pill: abortifacient and contraceptive. Linacre Quarterly. November 1999:26-36.
[10] Alcorn R. Does the birth control pill cause abortions? (5th Edition) Eternal Perspective Ministries. 2000.
[11] “Doctinal note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in the Political Life,” Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. January 13, 2003. (last accessed March 30, 2005.)
[12] “Whosoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father, Who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33). “For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words; of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in His majesty, and that of His Father, and of the holy Angels” (Luke 9:26).
[13] Roberto de Mattei, Crusader of the Twentieth Century: Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, (Gracewing Fowler Wright Books, Leominster, Herefordshire, 1998), p. x.

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