Sandro Magister is always worth reading. In his latest (translated) post, he addresses the present legal battles in the Philippines, which has pitted the Catholic president against the bishops conference.
The president has pushed forward the legalisation of contraception, which the bishops fought both in the public arena, and in the courts. It was a lost battle — and it was always going to be a lost battle — but should the bishops have fought it anyway? That’s the great debate — one which also impacts the Australian bishops, for example, when ‘gay marriage’ returns to the political agenda.
Fr Pierre de Charentenay SJ, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and resident in Rome, recently published a book on the Church in the Philippines which raises a very different question. He is critical of the bishops for employing religious arguments to state their case:
The bill was contested on June 18, 2013, before the supreme court, which […] hesitated for a long time. It was under the pressure of the Catholic Church, which was against the law. But it also knew that it had to take into account the new climate of a society that had become modern and pluralistic. […]
The first topic of discussion concerns the separation between religion and political decisions. It is clear that the Church, speaking to Christians and to public opinion, insists on important questions, the value of life, human dignity, a certain vision of man. Its principal argument, however, is religious. But in the present-day society of the Philippines, it can no longer be supposed that all are Christian. A diversification of opinion exists that prevents the imposition of Christian law, in the same way that it would prevent the imposition of sharia in Malaysia or Indonesia, or in the south in Mindanao. […]
In other words, the Filipino bishops need to get with the program and employ the same secular approach which has been tried and failed in the West. This is not only ineffective, but also, I think, dishonest. Environmentalists employ environmentalist arguments to state their case. Capitalists employ economic arguments. Religious lobbyists should employ religious arguments.
I’ve blogged about this before. Here’s Gerard O’Shea’s take:
When Catholics confine themselves to naturalistic arguments, they deceive no one. Secularists – who argue from their own perspective of “belief” – are able to accuse their Catholic opponents of having a hidden agenda, and of lacking the courage of their convictions by concealing what really motivates them. Any movement away from this situation is likely to be met with derision. Nevertheless, while neither Christians nor Secularists should impose their political views on others, Catholics should feel free to mount the full range of their arguments in public and should reject the notion that they are bound by rules of engagement set by their intellectual opponents.
But Fr de Charentenay’s critique gets worse. Much worse. He not only accepts but co-opts the Filipino government’s argument that liberalising contraception is a matter of social justice; a much needed service to the poor. It will “limit population growth and promote … quality of life.” And now for the extraordinary bit — the bishops should support the liberalisation of contraception because it will reduce the abortion rate:
[The bill] also responds to the desire to avoid the use of abortion as a means of contraception. […] In the discussion, the Catholic Church never mentions the proliferation of abortion, a reality decidedly more serious than the contraception it is fighting. The two things are connected, because abortion is the means for avoiding birth when contraception is not used. The greater evil follows the lesser evil.
In this sense the RH Bill seems to be a pro-life piece of legislation, in terms of both quality of life and anti-abortion politics.
Fr de Charentenay is right that abortion and contraception are connected, but not in the way he thinks. Bad Catholic does an excellent job analysing the studies and statistics which indicate that contraception increases the abortion rate. And you can’t go past Janet E. Smith for a more philosophical account of the phenomenon.
Fr de Charentenay claims that Pope Francis is on his side, but then all Catholics are wont to claim that the pope is on their side! Sandro Magister argues that the pope — who has probably read the book — has indeed taken the side of Fr de Charentenay, since he has not publicly rebuked the book. But I’m not convinced of that. The Holy Father extolled Humane Vitae during his trip to the Philippines, so it seems to me that in this instance, he has “sided” with the Filipino bishops. In other words, the pope has “sided” with the Catholic moral tradition.
What astonishes me — I am absolutely gobsmacked — is that Fr de Charentenay, a serious-minded Catholic, resident in the West, with all the benefits of hindsight, doesn’t recognise the devastating causal relationship between contraception and abortion. As Smith so succinctly puts it:
“Far from being a check to the sexual revolution, contraception is the fuel that facilitated the beginning of the sexual revolution and enables it to continue to rage.”