First posted 01:09:54 (Mla time) February 20, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LAST WEEK, Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denied reports that a Catholic parish has banned supporters of the reproductive health (RH) bill from receiving Holy Communion. He blamed supporters of the RH bill for agitating the public, claiming that it is proof that there is an element of deception behind the bill.
The alleged draft statement by the Parish Pastoral Council of Santuario de San Jose in Mandaluyong City describes support for the RH bill as an act tantamount to the commission of a mortal sin. The bill, says the statement now circulating online, “is inherently immoral and evil, recommending, supporting, defending, promoting and practicing its provisions and tenets constitute a mortal sin against many of the ten commandments.”
CBCP’s Castro may claim that the statement is false, and that it does not come with the blessing of the CBCP, but he misleads when he claims he is unaware of its source. Santuario de San Jose’s secretary Ella Dula did deny to various news agencies that the parish posted the statement, but she admitted it was drafted by the parish pastoral council.
Dula told ABS-CBN that “Yes, there is a statement but there was no announcement during the weekend. I don’t know how it was leaked.” She told GMA News that the council was surprised, and insisted that it would never have released the statement as it was.
Castro calls the statement black propaganda, claiming its only goal is to cause agitation and anger among Catholics.
The Church is forgiving, he says, for there is no need to punish those who support the bill, because they are only acting as a result of ignorance and goodwill.
Perhaps the Church was less forgiving in 2008, when Ozamiz Bishop Jesus Dosado barred Catholic politicians who openly supported and advocated “anti-life” legislation from receiving Communion. CBCP News Online quoted Dosado as he spoke to a gathering of Catholics that one cannot be called “a Catholic in good standing” if one can “publicly hold views that are contradictory to the Catholic faith.” He said he had the right to refuse Holy Communion to such legislators, and added in his pastoral letter a no-communion policy for politicians promoting reproductive health and artificial birth control.
Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, chair of the CBCP public affairs committee, did not call Dosada’s pastoral letter black propaganda, neither did Msgr. Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, who said that warnings will be made before the Mass for congressmen to refrain from receiving Communion.
Santuario de San Jose’s draft statement is a far cry from a pastoral letter in the CBCP website written by one of its own bishops, and still the CBCP now speaks as if banning Communion to wayward members of its flock is an act unthinkable in its severity. Castro’s outrage is odd in the context of 16 years of deadlock between the Church and reproductive rights groups, but perhaps the defensiveness is telling. The RH bill has already been consolidated and is on its way to plenary, with its 2012 congressional appropriations secure. With a majority of the population supporting the bill and politicians publicly announcing their commitment, even online outrage over a leaked draft is a cause for CBCP concern.
Which is not to say the Church does not have the right to ban Communion, or excommunicate the growing percentage of the population that supports reproductive health. The lines are being drawn, not between Catholic and non-Catholic, but between those who support the RH bill and all it stands for, and those who don’t. Religion, for a long time a matter of birth and tradition in Roman Catholic Philippines, is quickly becoming a matter of individual choice in the face of a 21st-century brotherhood that calls a condom a murder weapon and sexual intercourse the severest of sins. There is nothing wrong with the Church’s interference in national issues, and the manner by which it deals with its flock. The Church is not a democracy, and the thousands of disillusioned are welcome to the cathedrals of a thousand other gods.
It is a Catholic government the public should fear. Just last month the Aquino government announced the inclusion of the RH bill in the 12-bill list for prioritization, consistent with his statements in the campaign of 2010. This month, after speaking with the CBCP, the bill was removed from the list, pending talks with Catholic bishops, many of whom publicly announced they will not compromise. Even the most practical of considerations—public approval—does not justify the Aquino government’s withdrawal of the RH bill from this year’s priority list. The near-election of Joseph Estrada in 2010, in spite of the Church’s lobby against the candidate they painted as a womanizing buffoon, is proof enough that there is no such thing as a united Catholic vote.
Still, irrelevant of majorities, surveys and votes and the stunning loss of Ang Kapatiran’s JC de los Reyes, the choice to push back RH is a discriminatory one. It is a single religion that stands in the way of providing a public with differing beliefs the right to protect their reproductive health. Unlike the Church and its right to arbitrariness, the government has no right to impose its Church—or fear of the Church—on the lives and choices of the citizenry that empowered it.
The government may claim it is not cowed by the Church. Mr. Aquino’s withdrawal, they say, is a function of re-prioritization. The administration promises continued support for reproductive health. Perhaps these claims should be given a name—propaganda.