Fr Joaquin Bernas weighs in on Article 133 on top of a flawed assumption

Interesting point revered “constitutionalist” Father Joaquin Bernas makes as he weighs in on the subject of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC)…

[…] Article 133 also raises an intriguing question: When a priest or bishop castigates or consigns to the netherworld those who oppose the Reproductive Health Law in a sermon before a captive audience of churchgoers, should he be penalized by the State or canonically censured for offending religious feelings? After all, defenders of the RH Law also have feelings! What is good for the gander should also be good for the goose.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? The newly-enacted Reproductive Health (RH) Law officially makes artificial contraception available to the public at state expense. Basically Bernas is saying that priests too can, in theory, be accused of “offending religious feelings” and presumably charged on grounds of violating Article 133 of the RPC if they damn RH Bill “defenders” at the pulpit in front of their “captive audience of churchgoers.”


Bernas’s characterisation of these churchgoers as “captive” is a pivotal assumption that holds up his house-of-cards of an argument. Unfortunately it is a flawed one. Artificial contraception after all is categorically not an acceptable practice under Roman Catholic Canon Law. By entering a Catholic Church voluntarily to participate in a Catholic service, it is presumed that you subject yourself to the by-laws of the administrator of the premises and the officiator of the service. And the Catholic Church makes its terms of membership quite clear when it comes to human sexuality and procreation…

Similarly excluded [from “lawful means of regulating the number of children”] is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

Perhaps then, a priest damning the pro-RH Bill amongst his flock in Church may hurt their feelings (to be fair, Bernas acknowledges that they too have feelings). But by coming to Church churchgoers had de facto effectively waived their right to be offended by any Church official who says stuff that is consistent with canon law. They came to Church to hear mass. Compare that to how some “activists” go to and even barge into premises to say something that could be construed as an offense to “religious feelings.” Big difference.

Churchgoers, a “captive” audience? Indeed they are. But Catholics don’t even have to walk into a church building to be a captive of Catholic dogma. Simply professing one’s membership in the Catholic Church already makes one a captive of whatever a priest has to say that is consistent to Catholic dogma — whether you are in a church or outside of it. And to be a Catholic and offended by a message that is clearly consistent with Catholic Canon Law is oxymoronic at best.

It is easy to justify breaking the law when you’ve got popular sentiment behind you. That’s how former President Arroyo got away with assuming power extra-constitutionally in 2001. Just because a million-odd bozos trooped to Edsa that year, removing a legitimately-elected president from office was easily re-packaged as a “miraculous” achievement. In the same way, it is easy to get caught up in the popular sentiment of the moment and miss the underlying fundamental flaw in the logic of it all sitting right under your nose.

Too much education often has the effect of dulling common sense.


Post Author: benign0

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34 Comments on "Fr Joaquin Bernas weighs in on Article 133 on top of a flawed assumption"

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What I heard was activists were trying to “reform the Catholic Church.” What the…. when I heard that, I flipped over. The Catholic Church is NOT a democratic institution. You are a churchgoer, you’re supposed to follow what the clergy tell you. You have anything against them, best not be their churchgoer anymore.

Now if you want changes, you are supposed to go through your parish priest or elder, and hope it reaches the CBCP, or even the Vatican. But if you are refused, sorry nalang. You still have to follow.

Domingo Arong
Benign0 “Art. 133. Offending the religious feelings. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.” Note that the provision declares that: “The penalty … shall be imposed upon anyone who … shall perform acts. Problem here is that, ”in a sermon to a captive audience of churchgoers” (quoting Fr. Bernas), the priest or Bishop merely employs “WORDS” and does… Read more »

“Too much education often has the effect of dulling common sense.”

Was this really called for? We all have our brain-fart moments.

Hyden Toro

Let us all multiply like Rabbits, and starve…

To Benign0: I think what is not critically considered in your article is that the morality of the artificial contraception is not treated as a fallible teaching. Filipino moral theologian and active participant in the then-RH Bill debate, Bishop Teodoro Bacani affirmed the teaching as authoritative teaching of the Catholic church but not an “infallible and irreversible” teaching. What does it implies? It means that this teaching on contraception does not require an “act of faith” or an “act of definitive assent,” but only “religious assent”–“a docile submission of will and mind to what is being taught, motivated by the… Read more »