Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Contraception an ethical issue not a religious issue: an affront to the dignity of the person

by Fr Julio Penacoba. frjuliop@gmail.com 1046 Dos Castillas St., Sampaloc, Manila

As I understand it, Fr Bernas attempts to explain why it would be possible to accept the teachings of the Church (that says that contraception is wrong) and yet to support the RH Bill that promotes contraception.

His line of argument may be put like this: The rules of the Church apply to Catholics but should not be imposed on others.

In my understanding, that line of argument is very valid for religious issues, that is for matters related to faith and worship. For example, the Church has rules for its worship such as the obligation of attending Sunday Mass, or the prohibition of eating meat on Ash Wednesday, or the obligation to follow canon law provisions regarding marriage. The Church should not demand that the State impose those obligations to non-Catholics.

However, Fr Bernas' line of argument is not applicable to ethical issues. In those matters, the Church does not have ethical rules for Catholics only, but declarations of the ethical values inherent to the dignity of any human person. Thus, when the Church speaks against corruption, bigamy or drunkenness she is not stating rules for Catholics only. Neither is she imposing limitations on the goods of others. She is simply offering a moral evaluation of certain behaviors for all men of good will who mind the dignity of the whole person including his ethical dignity.

In my perception, Fr Bernas' position seems to treat contraception as a religious issue (a Church rule) rather than an ethical issue. For example, the first quotation that he cites in his Second point (Compendium of Social Doctrine, n.423) belongs to the section entitled Religious Freedom and not about morality or ethical issues. Any intelligent reader can see that it is talking of rights and privileges on the area of practicing one's religion --clearly not applicable to ethical issues.

Regarding the second quotation from the same Compendium (n. 169), it belongs to a discussion on how the State should seek the effective good of all and not only of the majority but of the minorities as well. To apply that text to the discussion on contraception would assume that everybody agrees that contraception is an ethical good and therefore it should be given not only to the majority but to the minorities as well.

Since both quotes are from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, may I now quote from the section (n.234) where that document refers directly to the on-going debate:

All programs of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned as affronts to the dignity of the person and the family.

The answer to questions connected with population growth must instead by sought in simultaneous respect both of sexual morals and of social ethics, promoting greater justice and authentic solidarity so that dignity is given to life in all circumstances, starting with economic, social and cultural conditions.


WillyJ said...

Here's mine from a secular perspective:
Fr. Bernas says:
"Seventh, I hold that there already is abortion any time a fertilized ovum is expelled. The Constitution commands that the life of the unborn be protected “from conception.” For me this means that sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation.
Tenth, I hold that public money may be spent for the promotion of reproductive health in ways that do not violate the Constitution. Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution."

Fr Bernas' seventh and tenth points, taken together, points to an unmistakable conclusion:

Public money may not be spent by the government for the promotion of contraceptives that harm sacred life at any point after fertilization.

This conclusion can be taken from a strictly legal and secular standpoint as it stands on a purely scientific and constitutional grounds. It is therefore a mystery why a lot of equivocation is brought out by the eminent Constitutionalist Fr Bernas in this particular column. All his other points are unnecessary and tangential to this main issue. The RH bill's essence as far as its main sponsor Cong Lagman admits to, is all about "access to contraceptives".

Thus, if we follow Fr Bernas' arguments in his 7th and 10th points correctly, the only logical conclusion we can make is that the RH bill cannot be licitly passed without violating the Constitution. I wonder why he did not spell out that conclusion himself.

Pierre Alejo said...

Very true. I agree with all of the writings here of Fr Julio P. I just hope more lay faithful, priests and religious will speak up publicly on the issue and propose to closed-minded RH Bill proponents that there is reason on the other side and one only need take up humility in one's reasoning. - Pierre Alejo

Sidney said...

please read with an open mind...


Raul said...

I just found this clear, witty and beautifully written ethical analysis of contraception: http://catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0011.html

Highly recommended.