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Ateneo and the RH bill


Back in college, my friends and I immersed ourselves in the communities of Smokey Mountain.  We marvelled at the scavengers’ ingenuity in creating products from scrap, but we despaired over the appalling living conditions and the enormity of the task of providing healthcare and education for so many children.

Mothers tearfully said they did not want any more kids, but abstinence was out of the question, and they knew next to nothing about natural family planning.  Two decades later, nothing seems to have changed.

I knew of an upper-class mother who seemed to be healthy enough, but who suddenly died.  Rightly or wrongly, her family attributed her death to the use of the pill (or something like it) to regulate her monthly periods.

Searching the Internet, they found out that the medication could lead to bleeding, strokes or heart attacks.

I refrained from writing about the RH (reproductive health) bill because I had not yet made up my mind and heart.  But I followed discussions, especially the Inquirer columns of Ateneo Law School dean emeritus Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., and University of the Philippines sociology professor Randy David.

Last month, Ateneo colleagues urged me to sign their letter of support for the RH bill. Though I found the message credible and reasonable, I did not sign because I was still undecided.

As a semi-public figure, I also did not want anyone to sensationalize or misinterpret my stand.

I was not going to air my views until some bishops started excoriating the professors who signed the letter.

Fresh air

Born years after Vatican II, I have been influenced by the religious who, though toeing the official Church line on reproductive health, never damned our souls for future sins.  My classmates and I dutifully memorized bits of “Humanae Vitae,” but we also learned about “Humanae Salutis” and Pope John XXIII’s call for the Church to open its windows to let in fresh air.

I never felt any conflict between science and religion, and considered my faith so vital that I chose Ateneo over UP (my parents’ alma mater). I reveled in the intellectual discourse under brilliant and compassionate theology, philosophy and history professors, several of whom were Jesuits.

Faith is not blind obedience to dogma, I learned, but a reasoned reflection on multiple perspectives, followed by a stand born of prayer, conscience and study.

In class and in individual discussions with Jesuit professors, I wrestled with thorny issues like the Church and Galileo.  The Church may be divinely inspired, my advisors replied, but practitioners are human, with foibles big and small.  My faith strengthened under their wise guidance.

The professors who signed the letter have studied intensively the economics, science and politics of reproductive health.  They have wrestled with their conscience and their faith. Some have worked for years with the poor. They did not write the letter lightly.

When Ateneo president Fr. Jose Villarin, S.J., said as a university Ateneo did not support the RH bill, news reports highlighted this clause: “I ask all those who engage in the Christian formation of our students to ensure that the Catholic position on this matter continues to be taught in our classes, as we have always done.”

The rest of the message was ignored.  Villarin did not order faculty to keep quiet but said, “I enjoin all in the Ateneo community to continue in-depth study of the present bill, and to support amendments to remove provisions that could be ambiguous or inimical from a legal, moral or a religious perspective.”

Some alumni were happy, saying the university was finally muzzling the professors.  Some religious groups said Ateneo was finally making its anti-RH stance clear.

The majority was aghast.  Close friends asked if I signed the letter and if I was in danger of losing my job.  Classmates said they were ashamed of Ateneo for allowing itself to be bullied.  Scientists asked me to pass on the mechanics of fertilization to the administration.  A friend in another university invited me to transfer to his school, promising that academic freedom would always be honored.

But  they got it all wrong.   No sanctions would be meted out to the professors, as reiterated by Loyola Schools vice president John Paul Vergara. Villarin “appreciates their (professors) social compassion and intellectual efforts, and urges them to continue in their discernment for the common good.”


Our dialogue continues.  On Sept. 24, a forum was held at the Ateneo, with Bernas, Fr. John Caroll, S.J., of the Institute on Church and Social Issues,  Marita Castro-Guevara of  the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, and Fr. Eric Marcelo Genilo, S.J., of the Loyola School of Theology as speakers.

You can read their views  at fatherbernasblogs.blogspot.

com, “Flying a kite in a thunderstorm” (Carroll, PDI, Aug. 20), the Ateneo professors’ open letter (Guevara’s), “Talking points for dialogue on the RH bill,” (Genilo’s, with Bernas and Carroll) in www.admu.edu.ph/index.php?p=120&type=2&aid= 9056.

In true Ateneo fashion, the faculty was asked to reflect on articles for, against and undecided.  These include Antonio Montalvan II’s “Physics, math and the RH bill” (PDI, Sept. 10), Eleanor Dionisio’s “But doesn’t the CBCP support responsible parenthood?” (PDI, Aug. 2), Francisco Tatad’s “Open letter in response to the 14 signatories of the Ateneo statement, 2008” in http://franciscotatad.

blogspot.com/2008/11/international-response-to-ateneo.html, the UP economists’ “Population, poverty, politics and the RH bill” (PDI,  July 28), and David’s “The Church, GMA and the RH bill” (PDI, Aug. 1).

Dialogue and discernment are hallmarks of Catholic universities.  Some bishops may be reluctant to speak out —perhaps because, as Carroll said in the forum, of the Roman Catholic Church’s call for unity.

But if moderate voices opt out of the dialogue, then the entire Church will unfairly be seen in an unfavorable light.

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

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Tags: Education , Learning , News , RH bill

  • just_anotherperson

    Has Ateneo invited competent pro-life speakers like Fr. Melvin Castro?  They are not ones who shrink from the opportunity to evangelize people.

    Or, is Ateneo afraid to face them? 

  • just_anotherperson

    Man is a creature: his primary duty is to obey. The great confusion prevalent today is that many confused people justify an intrinsically evil act, because they “calculate” (consequentialism) that “in the long run,” it will bring a decrease of  evil  and therefore a greater good.

    This reasoning is the Devil’s logic, and he can play the clever logician when convenient.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rzcortes Robert Z. Cortes

    The Ateneo may also want to invite Dr. Ligaya Acosta and Bro. Ed Sorento who spoke to U.P students in the National Institute of Physics. I heard they had a good and straightforward discussion, even though the the proRH people were rather boorish towards the antiRH people at some point of the discussion. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/killadajoker Denis Chanco

    this is way to easy–divide the country in half, one with rh bill and the other without it. NOW WHO DO YOU THINK WILL HAVE A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE?.and who will have a ridiculously amount of unwanted children in the streets..or maybe the line has already been drawn–the rich and educated have 2 kids, while the ignorant and impoverishment have 6-10 .ok then –anymore questions? Here is a better way–Travel to well developed countries, and see if any of them are over populated–its sad cuz, their dogs eat better than other people there…

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/NV25ZPWMBDYFXEYR3AWQ43ZS5E Hein S

      The Poor Pinoys live like RATS under bridges and eat Garbage PAGPAG.

      Just type PAGPAG on Youtube and see what the Poor eat.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O5HKALRICF7V6QM6MYPC5TJCFQ Herbert David

         Tanga! dapat sa iyo kinakain ng pusa bobo!

      • Bidang

        Hoy bakla mag suicide ka nalang…

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O5HKALRICF7V6QM6MYPC5TJCFQ Herbert David

       Tanga! Tama na ang kabaklaan mo bobo!

      • Bidang

        Hoy bakla tumahimik ka… Bobong herbert david kabit ni bishop palma…

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NV25ZPWMBDYFXEYR3AWQ43ZS5E Hein S

    ITALY and ISRAEL, the Original Cristians, have Universal RH for the people.

    Let’s not be TRYING HARD catholics.

    Majority of Pinoys want the RH Bill to pass.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_O5HKALRICF7V6QM6MYPC5TJCFQ Herbert David

       Tanga! imajority mo ang pwet mo bobo!

      • Bidang

        Tanga ka rin.. sipsipin mo pwet ni bishop palma.. bobo ka…

      • andrew lim

        Catholic na catholic ang dating ng dila mo a…..

      • JonahMac

        Such a Christian response…

  • borrico

    “Dialogue and discernment are hallmarks of Catholic universities.  Some bishops may be reluctant to speak out —perhaps because, as Carroll said in the forum, of the Roman Catholic Church’s call for unity.”

    At this point in time, forty-four (44) years after Humanae Vitae, to dialogue is NOT to try to change the moral quality of contraception. The Teaching Authority of the Catholic Church has already stated it: contraception is an intrinsically evil act. The Catholic lay faithful ought to try to align their thinking and understanding along the direction the bishops have pointed out. To dialogue now is to better understand the position of the Catholic Church. This is not slavery. This is obeying intelligently.
    The bishops have the right to demand obedience from teaching personnel of a Catholic university for the very simple reason that such a university ought to be a champion of Christian Morality!

  • Willy Jose

    //Faith is not blind obedience to dogma, I learned, but a reasoned reflection on multiple perspectives, followed by a stand born of prayer, conscience and study. //

    Thank you mam Queenie. However as far as definitive teachings are concerned, we obey first and then we reflect. It is not the other way around. That is what our model of faith, Mother Mary did. Pope John Paul II also said in Fides et Ratio that Faith and Reason do not contradict each other, and when we do obey dogma it is also with intellectual assent. Perhaps it is worthwhile to note the distinction between dogma and doctrine. Essentially, doctrine is a set of propositions taught by the Magisterium of the Church, whereas dogma is divinely revealed truth, proclaimed as such by the infallible teaching authority of the Church, and hence *binding* on all the faithful without exception.

    Faithful Catholics can in fact legitimately disagree with certain doctrines that have not been definitely pronounced. The teaching on just war and capital punishment are examples of doctrine that the faithful can disagree with. The teaching on contraceptives as an intrinsic evil, however, is dogma: it is irreformable, irreversible and has the same weight of infallibility as other dogma explicitly defined. This requires more in-depth study and reflection, but unfortunately we have the esteemed persons of Fathers Bernas and Genilo teaching that Humanae Vitae is NOT infallible teaching  and they have not been challenged openly by the Magisterium for their stand. It also certainly does not mean the two good priests are right on this matter. It does not also mean that in spite of the laudable academic credentials of the pro-RH Ateneo professors, they are also right in this matter. Two thousand++ years of historical, consistent Church teaching on this matter simply can not be wrong, and this is where we have to reconsider our personal, ‘intellectual’ stand.

    My comment here is for you and for Catholics only. Anyway, I am just an avid fan of your column. 

  • bgcorg

    What is wrong with trying to align our lives with either doctrine or teaching of the Church?  Why can’t people obey, instead of continuously griping against it because “it is hard saying,” “it is not sensitive to do for the suffering poor,” “it is not right for celibates to tell us, married folks, how to live our lives,” ”morality is how my conscience dictates me to do,” “so many people, countries even, are already contraceptive-practitioners,” ”science disproves religious beliefs which are pure sentimentalism,” “Church teaching/doctrines no longer appeal and had been overtaken by new developments,” “contraception is easier, more convenient and efficient to stop irresponsible reproduction of the poor,” “some priests or bishops do not lead frugal lives that we can emulate,” “the doctrine of the Church on contraceptives do not bind ‘ex cathedra’,” “maybe for Catholics, it may be binding but not for non-catholics,” “the Church should not meddle in political affairs,” “the Church should be paying taxes, otherwise priests have no business preaching against the use of artificial contraception, etc., etc.” 

    Kung ayaw, me dahilan; kung gusto, me para-an.  The human mind can conjure a lot of reasons other than putting heart and mind to singlemindedly and singleheartedly do something it is not ready to do.  That is why evangelization in the modern world today is so challenging.  It calls on all the baptized Christians to show in words and deeds that the gospel message is relevant in our lives today, despite radical secularism, modernity, relativism, utilitarianism, hedonism, materialism, extreme consumerism, cynicism, despair and godlessness.  Despite the presence of the Church as the lifeline one can turn to anytime, ready with God’s forgiveness and love, modern man today would like to frolic in false freedoms, ignoring the sacraments of forgiveness (penance) and the Eucharist, playing with spritual danger, hoping that in the end, the “Hound of Heaven” will find them, instead of they finding God.  Such is the tragedy of modern times in which we live.  We want eternal salvation but tarry, hopelessly trying to find a substitute for the one true Good.  We lack what the ascetics and mystics describe as “the interior life.”

    Even considering artificial conctraception under the light of reason alone, the open mind would see that the one, universal teaching of the Church by her Ordinary Magisterium, consistent and in continuity with the long teaching tradition for the reverence for life, the integrity of the human body, the sanctity of marriage and the family, do not favor championing of artificial contraception.  It’s a done, closed matter and the task of constitutional law, theology and science is to find rational basis for the doctrine, and to search further into how these sciences can serve the faith better.  For example, Christian scientists have found out that certain contraceptives can be used to cure irregular menstruation and therefore its use as a “medicine” does not affect the contraceptive nature and purpose for using contraceptives, as such.  Some “science” can be used to explain further how the prohibition against the contraceptive purpose of artificial contraceptives derive from the natural order and design of nature and creation or how man, despite his weaknesses, may be able to “turn away from sin, be converted and live the gospel.”  Some writings may elucidate how the objections against contraception derive from the primary principles of Natural Law to do good and to avoid evil and to do unto others as you wish them to do to you.  Some constitutionalists may find it interesting to draw the parallels and the harmony between the Philippine Constitution and “Humanae Vitae,” regarding the duty of the State to protect life from conception to natural death.  Some medical researches can establish the reliability of modern Natural Family Planning Methods and even make it desirable for the doubting Thomases among us, like the extensive research already available in the Creighton Model Fertility Care System of the Pope Paul VI Population Institute in the USA.

    In other words, there are so many things left undone even decades long after Humanae Vitae.  Reason serving theology and theology serving Faith have a vast latitude to maneuver around.  Would we have the humility to accept this?  Now that may call for a fundamental option.    

  • loveofjesus

    I am pleased to note that the
    dialogue between Ateneans on the opposite sides of the RH bill continues to
    this day in what you describe as “in the true Ateneo fashion”.


    I am concerned however about the
    fashion our Honorable Congressmen (I hope none of them are Ateneans) ended the RH
    bill period of debate. One hundred forty nine of them whispered “no” to our
    Bishops but on August 6, 2012, shouted “YES” behind the cloud of a voice voting
    system that ended the period of debate.  Congress
    will resume session next week. I pray these same Congressmen will not end the bill’s
    period amendment and railroad approval while dialogues are still ongoing among
    well meaning citizens whose interest they are supposed to serve.  


    Many of these Congressmen will
    again seek public office in the 2013 elections. What are we to do with them?

    • http://www.facebook.com/killadajoker Denis Chanco

      vote for those who would stand against the tyranny of the catholic church– 

  • JiyoonMin

    This is just a ruse the prelates will never bend on there dogma. Its all up to us to open the minds of others people on true state of poverty in our country.

    • Steven Zahl

      Type PAGPAG on Youtube and see what the Poor eat everyday.

      CNN and BBC have made documentaries on this.

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