RH Bill: A matter of conscience

by Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

Certain representatives of the Catholic Church, a staunch and powerful opponent of the reproductive health (RH) bill, have gone as far as threatening those in favor of the controversial piece of legislation with excommunication. A somewhat less extreme reaction has been to imply or to state outright that any supporter of the RH bill would do well to leave the Church. For example, Rev. Fr. Robert S. Embile, JCL, in a letter published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 20, 2009, said that, “Any believer who does not abide with the teachings 100 percent is not a genuine Catholic.” Such reaction perhaps stems from the misconception—an erroneous one, in light of the actual provisions contained therein—that the RH bill legalizes abortion. It does not. Read about it

Despite the difference in degree from excommunication, such a pronouncement is animated by the same impulse of exclusion from the community of the faithful, as though the position of the Church on reproductive health were so absolute and so unambiguous as to leave no room for healthy, critical discussion, much less disagreement. This is certainly not the case for “artificial” contraception.

The condemnation of “artificial” birth control is enshrined in the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, and what seems to be its most significant argument is that “artificial” birth control methods seek to separate the unitive and the procreative functions of sexual intercourse—functions that God made inseparable. Though “based on natural law”, and in line with what has been “constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church”, such a formulation ultimately begs the moral question, saying little more than this: artificial contraception is morally wrong because what it does is, and has always been, bad. It is a circular argument: it presupposes what it seeks to establish. In other words, The conclusion that artificial contraception is bad, is supported by the same premise: that artificial contraception is bad.

Even the assertion itself that artificial contraception is inherently wrong is also difficult to sustain, as will be shown below.

What the Church Teaches

(1) According to Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council, marriage is ordained not only toward the begetting of children, but also toward their education.

Furthermore, marriage is a sacred, unbreakable bond, through which love between two persons is more greatly enriched, strengthened, and perfected, leading the spouses closer to God. Marriage thus maintains its value as a way of life, regardless of offspring. Procreation is neither the sole nor the primary purpose of matrimony—the Church recognizes its importance, but does not make the other purposes of less account.

(2) The apostle Paul told husband and wife to fulfill their marital duties to each other: “Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

Gaudium et Spes, following Paul, contains this warning: “But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered.” Hence, the Church believes that regular intercourse is necessary and desirable for a married couple.

(3) Although the Church has a long and well-established wealth of teachings, only those that have to do with divine revelation are considered infallible. Humanae Vitae, as previously mentioned, derives its force from natural law. In addition, the Church encourages its faithful to interact with others of their time in order to share resources, to understand different points of view, and to better harmonize theological principles with secular knowledge.

Again, to quote Gaudium et Spes,

“Let them blend new sciences and theories and the understanding of the most recent discoveries with Christian morality and the teaching of Christian doctrine, so that their religious culture and morality may keep pace with scientific knowledge and with the constantly progressing technology.”

Catholics are exhorted not to shy away from the world and mindlessly cleave to tradition, but to take an active part in the shaping of history in cooperation with others.

What’s a good Catholic to do?

By now a gap, if not a conflict, should be apparent between Humanae Vitae and the other texts mentioned above. That none can be said to be more manifestly authoritative than the others—at least from a lay perspective—compounds the situation. How, then, should a good Catholic act? St. Thomas of Aquinas would counsel prudence, the function of which, based on Summa Theologica, consists of the following: to learn the facts, take advice, and understand the issues involved; to judge carefully what one has found; and to act out of reason so as to ensure good and avoid evil.

It is not inconceivable that “right reason applied to action” can result in dissent from the official position of the Church, which all Catholics are free to do with reference to non-infallible teachings. If, after careful study, after the scrupulous testing of convictions and values, one cannot accept the ban on “artificial” contraception with a clear conscience, then one must heed whatever his or her conscience does dictate—an act that would be genuinely Catholic.


13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    […] a comment » The following article was originally published in the November 10, 2009 edition of Noy News, the official newsletter of Noynoy Aquino. A related […]

  2. 2

    mo said,

    Presidential wannabe Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino must face squarely the valid issues involving his family’s Hacienda Luisita estate, including the recently bared benefits it derived from an overpriced P33-billion Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), including as well the P80 million direct cash right of way (RoW) payment from the government and a P170 million private interchange which appeared to have been built for the Cojuangco property.

    With the gross plunder that the nation has been through under the almost nine years of misgovernment of Gloria, Filipinos are expecting the next president to clean up her mess, which can only be achieved by one most perceived to have the ability to resist the temptations that go with the position.

    Resisting temptations is an important factor in a presidential equation, considering that Aquino and his elite Yellow supporters continue to claim that their candidate is honest and has integrity, which they say are all that matters in a presidential candidate.

    No stain of corruption? But Noynoy hasn’t been in the top post, for him to be stained with graft of the Gloria magnitude, although if, as stated in reports, he personally lobbied for that overpriced SCTEX and the private interchange as well as the overpriced RoW, plus giving the shareholder workers a mere pittance as their share of the RoW payment, what would the Yellows call this? Honesty? Integrity? Delicadeza-filled? No personal or selfish interest involved? Clean transactions? Transparency? Full disclosure?

    In a similar way that another presidential hopeful, Manuel Villar is facing his colleagues in the Senate to clear up the P200-million double-insertion mess in the C-5 road project, Noynoy should be able to face up to demands for public scrutiny, particularly since he is being projected to be the civil socialites’ clean government bet.

    Based on an ongoing probe of the SCTEX project, it was found that the government paid the Cojuangcos P80 million to have the interchange, that could have been the family’s own, since it linked Hacienda Luisita to the expressway, built over their property.

    The question on propriety does not stop there, as a potential leader of the land Noynoy should have been expected to have looked into the whole project that seems all too ready to splurge to have it completed.

    Based on the House probe, the project was overpriced by P12 billion as a result of supposed alterations or more likely accommodations, such as the Hacienda Luisita private interchange.

    Legislators are also looking into the possibility that both the interchange and the RoW payments to Noynoy’s family were both obscenely overpriced.

    Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla said the Cojuangcos were paid nearly P100 per square meter when the prevailing market price for land in the area cannot be over P10 per square meter, or a 900 percent overprice.

    An opprobrious part of the story is that the Cojuangcos may not have even shared the bounty with their farm hands who supposedly owned 32.5 percent of the Hacienda which was turned into a corporate land to evade appropriation under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law — and after Cory Aquino, then the sole law and government, exempted her Hacienda from the CARL.

    The abuse of tillers in the property is well documented despite Noynoy’s allegations that the accusations are all black propaganda and politics, including the so-called Hacienda Luisita Massacre that happened five years ago.

    Noynoy is being packaged as a Cory Cojuangco and Ninoy Aquino all rolled into one and is the savior in waiting for the country despite his having no defining accomplishment during his years as a congressman and as a senator.

    How he confronts the issues on Hacienda Luisita will give the nation a good measure of Noynoy’s capability to lead and unite.

    Brushing the issues off as part of political mudslinging going into the elections will not wash.

    The nation had had enough of an opaque presidency in which allegations of misrule and abuse are dismissed with a wave of a hand as part of destructive politicking.

    Noynoy is following a similar path on the Hacienda Luisita issue starting with the abuse of farmers working for the Cojuangcos for generations.

    To say that his actions on the Hacienda mirror a Noynoy presidency is belaboring the point.

  3. 5

    Bartholomew Tan said,

    please don’t change the subject mr. mo, we are not talking about that favorite subject of the communists, that hacienda thing.

    we are talking about the Church opposition to contraception and artificial birth control.

    dont’ change the subject.

    as for the subject. sorry, but it is not about conscience, its about morality and righteousness, about right and wrong, and contraception is wrong, because it does separate the unitive and procreative aspect of the marital act. there is nothing circular about it, conscience has nothing to do with it, your conscience may be wrong, but God and His infallible Word is never wrong. and as a Catholic Humanae Vitae is considered dogma with regards to faith and morals, so Catholics may not dissent against it, any dissent from Humanae Vitae is a mortal sin, especially if done by a politician who claims to be Catholic, as it caused public scandal and it leads Catholics astray.

    • 6

      noypipol said,

      Morality and righteousness can be defended by all sorts of philosophical gymnastics, as any philosopher can tell you.
      But conscience is what determines whether or not you can support the philosophical gymnastics.
      Conscience, therefore is necessary to morality, while morality is not necessary to conscience, although morality is sufficient to prove that conscience exists.

      Ask yourself: Is it moral? The answer is yes or no, and you may defend it in any way you choose.

      Is it conscience? There is no yes-or-no.
      You may however, ask, are YOU conscientious? The answer, therefore, lies in your heart.

      So it is, to put it plainly, a matter of conscience.

      And on dogma — yes, God’s word is infallible. But Humanae Vitae was written by humans, not God. It was a document set forth by a vote among clergy. “Inspired by God” they may claim. This could certainly be true, but we cannot rest dependence solely on that. For any man on the street may claim they were inspired by God. Indeed, weren’t those evangelicals and church leaders convicted of molestation, rape, forced marriage and incest in recent years, didn’t they all claim to have been “inspired by God”?

      Although thanks, Mr Tan. You’ve heeded our request for less inflammatory speech, and for that, thank you.

  4. 7

    Bartholomew Tan said,

    contraception and artificial birth control are considered inherently immoral, and opposition to is considered an infallible teaching, therefore a Catholic cannot dissent from it and not commit mortal sin.

    conscience has no primacy in Catholic teaching,

    it is Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium which holds primacy.

    primacy of conscience is a myth concocted by marriage-hating, government-worshipping cultural marxists and secular humanists within the Church.

    Primacy of Scripture Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium is what the Church has taught for 2000+ years, and continues to do so.


  5. 8

    Engr. Jojo said,

    Bartholemew, Human vitae is not divinely inspired as you and other catholics claimed to be, otherwise the Bible is not yet complete and Humane Vitae should have been included in the Bible as an inspired Bible Book No. 67. Therefore, Human Vitae is NOT infallible!

    Consider this: Rev. 22:18-19 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophesy of this Book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues describe in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophesy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

  6. 9

    Engr. Jojo said,

    @Bartholomew, man by nature is religious that even the most uncivilized person will seek and cling to what they believed Supernatural. The animist look to the animals as their supernatural beings, savages, atheist and the like others do look for somebody or something to worship to. What then is it that teach them what is right and what is wrong it is CONSCIENCE, because it the window of your soul. In the absence of Bible teaching, meaning where the Bible have not reached, God teaches his people through CONSCIENCE.

  7. 10

    Dan Uriarte said,

    Bakit kayo humihingi ng contributions galing sa mga butante na kilalang-kilala kayo na mayaman sa Tarlac at sa kontrobersya sa Subic-Clark-Tarlac expressway na kumikita kayo ng malaki! Kung ikaw manalo baka humihiling ka rin ng kita sa goberno para sa gastos mo ng election dahil wala kaming narinig dito sa amin na namahagi ka ng yaman nyo sa mga magsasaka o sa mga mahirap kun’di humingi ka pa sa mga pilipino kung baga mayaman ka na humihingi ka pa.

  8. 11

    Bartholomew Tan said,

    Engineer Jojo, Humanae Vitae is 100% consistent with the Holy Bible, it doesn’t add to it but rather it applies Biblical principles to modern day sins that did not exist in Biblical times due to the changes in technology.

    noypipol, secular research? well, there is some, but even that you cannot find in secular website, you can only find that in Christian websites, try this one:


    Remember that Protestant Churches especially in the United States didn’t start supporting contraception publicly until 1930, before then they overwhelmingly opposed contraception.

    and today, the overwhelming majority of Traditional Christians, especially among Evangelicals, oppose the use of contraception.

  9. 12

    Bartholomew Tan said,

    Here’s more:

    The Inherent Racism of Population Control

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