by: Most Rev. Gabriel V. Reyes, D.D.
Bishop of Antipolo
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 Father Bernas, SJ (Sounding Board, Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 23, 2011), 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.
Father Bernas 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)
Father Bernas 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.”