Starting September 8, 2012, anonymous comments -- whether for or against the RH bill -- will no longer be permitted on this blog.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Response to Fr. Bernas on " A War of Religions"

From Wilfredo Jose's blog Random Thoughts and Musings:

[and my comments]

By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted 05/02/2011

THE CONTROVERSY over the RH Bill is becoming or has become a war of religions. Pitted against each other are, on the one hand, “good” Catholics, and, on the other, the Iglesia ni Cristo, Protestant denominations, Muslims and “bad” Catholics. By “bad Catholics” I mean the kind of Catholics whom “good” priests supported by their “good” bishop consider unworthy to enter a Catholic church. And since I myself do not see the various issues as clear black against white, I have been urged by some “good” Catholics to leave the church before I say anything more on the issue. It is a sad day for the Catholic church which I love.

[I don't approve of the word "bad" Catholics either. It is too negative and judgmental upon the person. I would rather use the term "dissenting" Catholics, which more objectively defines the action. However, dissenting Catholics would generally fall into two categories, one who dissents out of lack of catechetical formation, and one who dissents willfully, with full knowledge and consent. I would leave it to the readers if the last category of Catholics means "bad".]

When I heard about the priest who told those who accept the RH Bill to leave the church, two passages from the New Testament came to mind. I refer, first, to the driving of money changers out of the temple premises. Jesus fashioned a whip out of cords, and drove the “bad guys” out of the premises. But unlike the driven out “bad Catholics,” the “bad guys” in the New Testament story were not there to pray; they were there to make money. And they were not even in the inner portion of the Temple. Jesus had every right to say that his Father’s house was not meant to be a marketplace.

[I never heard of that sermon of the priest "who told those who accept the RH Bill to leave the church". It is probably worthwhile to appreciate the sermon in its entirety, and understand the message in its whole context. I am note sure if the priest in question likened Catholic pro-RH supporters to money changers at the temple. For one thing, the money changers displeased Jesus. On the other hand I wonder if pro-RH Catholics do not displease Jesus for disobeying His Church.]

Another incident is the story of the woman caught in adultery. She was dragged before Our Lord by “good” people. And the Mosaic law was clear: a woman caught in adultery must be stoned. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone,” Jesus said. And he bent down to scribble on the ground, to scribble perhaps the names of the accusers. One by one the “good” guys slunk away.

[I always hear of this passage whenever talk about tolerance occurs in religious circles. I notice time and again that the last statement of Jesus in that story is almost always left out: Go and sin no more.]

The moral of the story is, which I like to tell those who ask me why I continue to teach “bad guys” in the Ateneo Law School: Christ came to save sinners, even defenders of the RH Bill.

[Right. But what exactly do you teach them, Father? Rather, what understanding to they internalize and how do they act upon it after imbibing your teachings? How many of your students come out of your classes convinced or otherwise that the RH bill should be opposed?]

The debate on the RH Bill started in 2008, or perhaps even earlier, but it was interrupted by concern about the coming elections. When the debate resumed in 2009, it was difficult for many, myself included, to be totally for or totally against the RH Bill because it had many facets. I believe that the complexity of the issues presented by the bill is the reason that, while some priests and bishops have been vocal against the bill, others have largely remained silent. And I often wonder how many of them have bothered to study the Bill.

Since 2009, the proposal in the House has undergone some very substantial changes. The original proponents of the Bill have agreed to tone down or eliminate some of the provisions being objected to. Let me enumerate some.

The original bill said that local government units should “give priority to family planning work.” What is now being proposed is that local government units will “help implement this Act.”

With regard to mandatory age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education, the proposal now says “Parents shall have the option of not allowing their minor children to attend classes pertaining to Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education.” Moreover, the provision on the ideal family size has been deleted.

Deleted also is the section on employers’ responsibility on reproductive health which merely amplifies what is already provided for in the Labor Code.

Likewise deleted was the specific enumeration of allowable contraceptive devices and methods. Instead, the proposal is for the allowance of contraceptive methods that are in general safe and legal. This would mean a prohibition of contraceptive methods that are abortifacient once they have been scientifically identified. This is what the government did after Postinor was identified as abortifacient.

[Father, the allowance of contraceptive methods that are "in general safe and legal"? The deletions and rewordings does not give us any comfort. It is not any secret that the pro-RH legislators have insisted on their own definition of what is "safe and legal". For example, it is common knowledge that they insist that life starts at implantation, not at fertilization that science as well as the Catholic doctrine asserts unequivocally. The core issue of the Church's disagreement with the RH bill stays, even with the amendments.]

Will these proposed changes, even if all of them become part of the law, put an end to the debate? Definitely it will not. Very much at the heart of the debate is the teaching on methods of family planning. I do not see the Catholic Church or the other churches yielding on this issue. In the light of this insoluble division, how then should the debate be conducted?

The Catholic Social Teaching on this may be found in what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) under the CBCP states: “The public defense of gospel values, especially when carried into the arena of public policy formulation, whether through the advocacy of lay leaders or the moral suasion by pastors, is not without limit ... It needs emphasizing, that, although pastors have the liberty to participate in policy debate and formulation, that liberty must not be exercised to the detriment of the religious freedom of non-communicants, or even of dissenting communicants. This is a clear implication of Vatican II’s ‘Dignitatis humanae.’ This is not just a matter of prudence; it is a matter of justice.”

Of special application to a country where Catholics are a majority is the teaching of the Compendium on the Social Teaching of the Church, which says: “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.” This, too, is the teaching of “Dignitatis Humanae.” (No. 6)

[The Catholic Church have not yielded the absolute truths contained in Divine revelation as well as Holy tradition. The reason is straightforward: the Church does not reverse the truth nor does it have the power to do so. Its mission in the temporal sphere is to reveal the truth and propagate it. This does not mean we can not or should not collaborate with people of good will from all walks of faith in the pursuit of common good. In doing so, the Church does not and should not coerce. Father is right there, but perhaps he focuses too much on the latter in his comments on Dignitatis Humanae. While Fr Bernas excerpted select passages to make his point come across, I am afraid he does not do justice to the entire document. The same doctrinal declaration also states: (emphasis mine)

"The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it, never-be it understood- having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, the charity of Christ urges him to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith. All is to be taken into account - the Christian duty to Christ, the life-giving word which must be proclaimed, the rights of the human person, and the measure of grace granted by God through Christ to men who are invited freely to accept and profess the faith.".

NOTE: "never-be it understood- having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel". In other words the principle of religious tolerance does not mean that we surrender our faith. "All is to be taken account". I trust Fr Bernas did not intend to convey otherwise, but his article may be read to imply that we surrender our faith. He is a widely-read constitutionalist, a popular columnist in a popular newspaper, and most of all: a priest. I foresee the pro-RH side gleefully pouncing on Fr Bernas' article to attack the anti-RH side. I foresee the anti-RH Catholics do double-time in their defense of the Catholic position. I fear that the flames of the 'religious war' (assuming there is one), may further be fanned contrary to the good Father's intentions. Lastly, for the faithful and casual reader, it might spell a disaster in pastoral care.]


  1. Just one question for now, you stated "I always hear of this passage whenever talk about tolerance occurs in religious circles. I notice time and again that the last statement of Jesus in that story is almost always left out: Go and sin no more." What are you trying to say? That it is justifiable to cast the first stone if the sinner is a repeat offender?

  2. Since comments here are subject to approval, would it mean that comments which you can't successfully argue against be rejected?

  3. First anonymous:

    I suggest that you take it up with Jesus Christ, who was the one who uttered "go and sin no more" in the first place.

    The fact of the matter is that Christ's compassion for the sinner is all too often misunderstood as meaning approval for the sin. "Go and sin no more" puts His compassion and mercy in the proper perspective -- Christ is merciful to sinners, but He also condemns and calls out sin for what it is. That is exactly what the Church does as well.

    Second anonymous:

    Some mind-conditioning there, eh? Shame on you for your rudeness.