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 â€œtwo (2) biggiesâ€ 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 oneâ€™s conscience.
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In the first place, under what circumstances was the doctrine of papal infallibility defined? In his book, â€œHow the Pope Became Infallible: Pope Pius IX and Politics of Persuasionâ€ (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 â€œPapal Statesâ€â€”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 Churchâ€”an â€œinfallible popeâ€ which holds that when the pope formulates a doctrine, he is transmitting this dogma on Godâ€™s behalf so the popeâ€™s teaching cannot possibly be in error. Therefore, even without the army of the Papal States, the popeâ€™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 Churchâ€™s opposition to the Reproductive Healthcare Bill is not about artificial birth control or papal infallibility. Itâ€™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 Churchâ€™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 â€œforfeited their moral and mental freedomâ€ and described the Catholic Church as â€œan Asian monarchy: nothing but one giddy height of despotism, and one dead level of religious subservienceâ€. He further claimed that the Pope wanted to destroy the rule of law and replace it with arbitrary tyranny, and then to hide these â€œcrimes against liberty beneath a suffocating cloud of incenseâ€.
Cardinal Newman famously responded with his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk toasting, â€œI shall drink to the Pope if you pleaseâ€”still, to conscience first and to the Pope afterwardsâ€. Amen, Cardinal Newman, Amen.