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

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fr. Julio Penacoba responds to Fr. Joaquin Bernas

The following letter is a response to Fr. Joaquin Bernas SJ's latest column, entitled "My stand on the RH bill". This response has been published on the following blogs: Primacy of Reason and Jemy Gatdula. The following version includes all the italics in the version sent by Fr. Penacoba himself via email.

Fr. Julio Penacoba is a spiritual writer and a priest of Opus Dei.
by Fr Julio Penacoba. 1046 Dos Castillas St., Sampaloc, Manila

As I understand it, Fr Bernas attempts to explain why it would be possible to accept the teachings of the Church (that says that contraception is wrong) and yet to support the RH Bill that promotes contraception.

His line of argument may be put like this: The rules of the Church apply to Catholics but should not be imposed on others.

In my understanding, that line of argument is very valid for religious issues, that is for matters related to faith and worship. For example, the Church has rules for its worship such as the obligation of attending Sunday Mass, or the prohibition of eating meat on Ash Wednesday, or the obligation to follow canon law provisions regarding marriage. The Church should not demand that the State impose those obligations to non-Catholics.

However, Fr Bernas' line of argument is not applicable on ethical issues. In those matters, the Church does not have ethical rules for Catholics only, but declarations of the ethical values inherent to the dignity of any human person. Thus, when the Church speaks against corruption, bigamy or drunkenness she is not stating rules for Catholics only. Neither is she imposing limitations on the goods of others. She is simply offering a moral evaluation of certain behaviors for all men of good will who mind the dignity of the whole person including his ethical dignity.

In my perception, Fr Bernas' position seems to treat contraception as a religious issue (a Church rule) rather than an ethical issue. For example, the first quotation that he cites in his Second point (Compendium of Social Doctrine, n.423) belongs to the section entitled Religious Freedom and not about morality or ethical issues. Any intelligent reader can see that it is talking of rights and privileges on the area of practicing one's religion --clearly not applicable to ethical issues.

Regarding the second quotation from the same Compendium (n. 169), it belongs to a discussion on how the State should seek the effective good of all and not only of the majority but of the minorities as well. To apply that text to the discussion on contraception would assume that everybody agrees that contraception is an ethical good and therefore it should be given not only to the majority but to the minorities as well.

Since both quotes are from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, may I now quote from the section (n.234) where that document refers directly to the on-going debate:

All programs of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned as affronts to the dignity of the person and the family. The answer to questions connected with population growth must instead by sought in simultaneous respect both of sexual morals and of social ethics, promoting greater justice and authentic solidarity so that dignity is given to life in all circumstances, starting with economic, social and cultural conditions.


  1. So with that statement, i think we should pass a bill that will tax the clergy and church. Kung makikialam kayo sa pagpapatakbo ng gobyerno dapat magbyad kayo ng buwis!

    1. Hanggat may dimensyon ng moralidad ang isang gawain, lalo na kung ito ay pinamumunuan ng mga lider ng bansa, tungkulin ng Simbahan na magsalita tungkol dito.

  2. That's a nice argument -- if you don't agree with me, I'll take away your money. Very rational.

    The Church doesn't have to pay taxes for the simple reason that it already funds numerous social projects in addition to its religious works. Unfortunately for the likes of you, this country is neither a Fascist nor a Communist state, but a country that in the tradition of Western republics considers the Churches to be essential to the promotion of the common good. For that matter, some Western "secular" countries of the kind that are considered by Filipino "intellectuals" as models, not only NOT tax the Church, but actually subsidize it with taxpayer money -- think of Germany and Austria, for instance.

  3. Following the argument of Anonymous, should we now tax TV evangelists, including those who do not live here, because they also teach us how to live morally and ethically? Why should I pay taxes for contraceptives, sterilization and botched abortions?

    Take botched abortions. I did not get the girl pregnant. Why should I pay for her treatment in a post abortion clinic provided for by the bill?

    The RH bill is not the solution to our poverty problem.What good will it do if you sterilize all the dirt poor if they cannot support themselves?

    Why not just make the dirt poor economically productive so they can buy their own contraceptives? I would still rant and rave about their use of contraceptives because it is against my religious beliefs but can I stop them? It's their money and it's free country.

    Why not just spend the P3B to kick start the program and the P28B to sustain it annually for the education of the dirt poor?

  4. The church is against contraceptive devices. So, if a woman with 5 children who is already having financial difficulties chooses to follow the stand of the church and decides to practice rhythm (assuming she has the time to take her temperature first thing in the morning everyday before getting out of bed which is what rhythm requires) amidst having to take care of her children and maybe go out to do laundry to augment their meager income and still gets pregnant, will the church now say they will take care of the woman's expenses from the time she gets pregnant till birth then take care of the baby from infancy until the child finishes college? The church cannot just say "don't take artificial contraceptives" but not offer a solution for women who get pregnant with the rhythm or billings method which, for one, is highly unreliable.

    I am against artificial contraceptives that may induce abortion but I believe the women should be allowed to use artificial contraceptives that are not abortifacients.

  5. This article has been submitted to the Inquirer last week, but they haven't published it yet.

    You may ask the Inquirer to have it published. Email,, AND Send to all three addresses, just to be sure. :)


  6. As a doctor I realy dont know of any so called contraceptive that does not have an abotifacient effect(except for the condom). Also you (anonymous) are not well informed as to the effectivity of the billings(natural FP) method.

  7. Because the church allowed 'dubious' ethics to rule the laws of most countries, the church is then remiss and must admit failure, especially in 'allowing' the rest of the world to practice RH. It was weak and inutile because it 'rendered to Caesar' the laws of the land. If it is the true church it should lead a revolution against every existing government that allows this abomination to continue. The Vatican should lead the breaking of diplomatic ties with the heathen.

    But of course it will not because, well, it can't bully the world. And it needs the donations. It can only bully the poor in the Philippines.

  8. Riza Damiles, MDMay 30, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    Father Bernas in his latest article entitled "Levels of discourse in the RH debate" is asking for a study from an authoritative source that will prove that the contraceptive pill is in fact an abortifacient.

    To father Bernas, I have this to say: Pregnancy CAN occur while on the pill, this is a universal truth that NO ONE can dispute. The pill is a weak version of the drug that you accept is an abortifacient (ECP, morning after pill, eg Postinor), surely you don't need any more explanation than that.

    I agree with Louis Limjoco, the Billings method is easy and in my personal experience accurate. And hey, its safe.

  9. Are you saying that it is right for the Catholic church to impose it's own beliefs to people of other faiths? Get down from your high horses. Catholicism does not hold a monopoly on morality. Let the people make their own INFORMED choices.

  10. Doc Louie Limjoco!
    Why, what a pleasant surprise seeing you commenting in here. I agree with you 101% percent. Brother, may your tribe increase as more doctors shun lucrative practise in favor of being a doctor to the poor folks. Mabuhay!
    - WillyJ77

    To Anonymous of (May 30, 2011 9:33 PM)

    The Catholic Church is not imposing its beliefs on this one. Please read Fr Penacoba's article again, especially the p[art where it says:the Church does not have ethical rules for Catholics only, but declarations of the ethical values inherent to the dignity of any human person. Thus, when the Church speaks against corruption, bigamy or drunkenness she is not stating rules for Catholics only. Neither is she imposing limitations on the goods of others. She is simply offering a moral evaluation of certain behaviors for all men of good will who mind the dignity of the whole person including his ethical dignity.