Reproductive Healthcare and Religious Despotism

The last time I checked, the Philippines was not subject to Sharia Law. Yet, it sure feels that way with the Catholic Church pushing its weight all over the place to ensure the Reproductive Healthcare Bill gets voted to oblivion by Congress. In fact, for nearly two decades or about 25 million less people in the Philippines ago (the Philippines has a population of about 100 million today (2012) and is increasing at a rate of about 2 million individuals per year), the Church has been holding the Legislature moral hostage on various versions of the Reproductive Healthcare Bill because certain factions within the Church believe that artificial birth control goes against an ex cathedra doctrine of the Church. In short, some sectors believe the Reproductive Healthcare Bill goes against an infallible moral teaching of the Pope and, therefore, should be stopped at all costs.

Although highly simplified, there are two interpretations of ex cathedra doctrine. The textbook interpretation of ex cathedra doctrine or the “two (2) biggies” are simply (1) the Immaculate Conception of Mary and (2) the Assumption of Mary. The broader interpretation of ex cathedra doctrine enumerates the conditions under which the Pope is infallible, which is when the Pope: (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority (3) on a matter of faith and morals (4) to the whole Church.

For those who believe in the textbook interpretation of ex cathedra doctrine, there is no conflict between the Reproductive Healthcare Bill (artificial birth control, in particular) and the infallible moral teachings of the Pope. On the other hand, for those who believe in the broader interpretation of ex cathedra doctrine, the Humanae Vitae Encyclical of Pope Paul VI (promulgated on July 25, 1968), which shuns artificial methods of birth control, would be considered ex cathedra doctrine, thereby rendering the Reproductive Healthcare Bill in direct conflict with an infallible moral teaching of the Pope. The point being, even in the religious realm of the Catholic Church that is duty-bound to distinguish between right and wrong, heaven and hell, salvation and damnation, black and white and so on, there are infinite shades of gray best left for one’s conscience.

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In the first place, under what circumstances was the doctrine of papal infallibility defined? In his book, “How the Pope Became Infallible: Pope Pius IX and Politics of Persuasion” (1981), Catholic historian Bernhard Hasler described the circumstances that faced the Catholic Church in Rome at the time of the First Vatican Council. It was in the year 1870 when the papacy lost the “Papal States”—the territories of central Italy over which the pope had sovereignty for more than a millennium from 756 to 1870. So the Council was faced with the burning question of how the papacy could still retain its power after the devastating loss of its papal states.

It was then when a group of conservative church leaders led by Pope Pius IX came up with the idea of exploiting a traditional albeit controversial view of the Catholic Church—an “infallible pope” which holds that when the pope formulates a doctrine, he is transmitting this dogma on God’s behalf so the pope’s teaching cannot possibly be in error. Therefore, even without the army of the Papal States, the pope’s word would still carry enormous power.

In other words, the motivation behind the dogma of papal infallibility, while most enlightened, was hardly spiritual but rather a stroke of political genius for the temporal aggrandizement of the pope and the Vatican. Indeed, the audacity to declare the pope as the supreme arbiter of morality smacks of despotism and this, by the way, is the underlying doctrine of the Catholic Church to fend-off the Reproductive Healthcare Bill. That said, the Catholic Church’s opposition to the Reproductive Healthcare Bill is not about artificial birth control or papal infallibility. It’s a deceitful assertion of the power and influence of the Catholic Church amidst its eroding relevance in the world.

The words of British Prime Minister William Gladstone hold true with respect to the Catholic Church’s opposition to the Reproductive Healthcare Bill today as when he publicly attacked the First Vatican Council nearly 150 years ago, stating that Roman Catholics had “forfeited their moral and mental freedom” and described the Catholic Church as “an Asian monarchy: nothing but one giddy height of despotism, and one dead level of religious subservience”. He further claimed that the Pope wanted to destroy the rule of law and replace it with arbitrary tyranny, and then to hide these “crimes against liberty beneath a suffocating cloud of incense”.

Cardinal Newman famously responded with his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk toasting, “I shall drink to the Pope if you please—still, to conscience first and to the Pope afterwards”. Amen, Cardinal Newman, Amen.

7 Replies to “Reproductive Healthcare and Religious Despotism”

  1. Actually it’s not entirely Rome that should be the focus of all the reproductive health ills in the country.

    According to Gary Wills, even the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (which deals with the current Catholic stand on contraception) was met with tons of opposition by Vatican insiders. The fact that ITALY has a comprehensive contraceptive program is proof that the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t necessarily have a complete stranglehold on the affairs of men–if only the people under the Church would open their eyes.

    The Filipino Catholic Church is a Vatican on its own, and sometimes it feels like they’re more Vatican than the Vatican itself. They treat the Philippines as one huge Papal State and cleverly manipulate the minds of their followers. Worse, the ignorance of these same followers (under threat of some pretense of “excommunication”) is keeping them from actually thinking for themselves.

    Catholicism in the Philippines could be a wonderful thing (yes, I really think that). It’s just that the ruling bishops in the Philippines continue to perpetuate an obsolete system of feudalism that, ironically, the rest of the Philippines either blindingly or willingly submits to.

    1. “The Filipino Catholic Church is a Vatican on its own”
      ^this. With our obsession on being the “best people in the world”, we actually think we can do everything better that everyone else on the planet, hence, the holier than Vatican attitude of our Catholic church.

  2. I am Catholic and proud of it. I am not in favor of RH bill not because of the moral issues behind. IF we REALLY need this law, I am open to supporting but it is more a question of money FOR NOW.

    It is projected that we need yearly amount of Php14 billion in order to implement this RH law. Threshold questions: 1) Under current circumstances, where will we get this money? 2) Given we have the money, will it not be better spent in enhancing public services like education, health care, justice, weather forecasting, etc.?

  3. Again the people themselves are just as responsible for indulging the spoiled festering mobster that is the Philippine Catholic Church. An Enlightenment is long overdue over the archipelago

  4. SAID THE MAN IN A PURPLE DRESS,:’You look ridiculous.’.Oh yeah,right
    THEN SAID:’The current disasters are the result of sinful behavior with the almighty steppin in to punish one and all.’.OH YEAH,RIGHT.

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