MANILA, Philippines ? After raising a firestorm of protests with his remark that President Benigno Aquino risked excommunication, the president of the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines on Friday said the country?s highest Church body had not contemplated such an action.
CBCP president Bishop Nereo Odchimar denied having threatened Mr. Aquino with excommunication should he push for the use of artificial contraceptives to curb the population growth and address poverty.
Odchimar mentioned the possibility of Mr. Aquino facing excommunication in an interview Thursday on Church-run Radio Veritas.
His remarks were carried not only in the national media but also reported in the Catholic news service UCAN, a website featuring news about the Catholic Church, with editorial headquarters in Bangkok.
The UCAN story, like that of the Inquirer, also carried the headline: ?Bishops threaten Aquino with excommunication.?
The UCAN story led off with the paragraph: ?The Catholic Church may excommunicate President Benigno Aquino III if he pushes through with a plan to distribute contraceptives, says the head of the Philippine bishops? conference.?
The news service has a Jesuit priest, Father Michael Kelly SJ, as executive director and has offices or bureaus in 20 Asian countries.
In his statement Friday, Odchimar maintained the Catholic Church wanted to address reproductive health issues ?in the spirit of dialogue and not of confrontation.?
?While the prevailing sentiment of a number of bishops was that of dismay and frustration over the reported stance of the President regarding artificial contraceptives, imposition of the canonical sanction has not been contemplated by the CBCP,? Odchimar said.
?Threat of excommunication at this point of time can hardly be considered to be in line with dialogue,? the bishop said.
It was Odchimar himself who raised the issue of excommunication as a sanction in an interview on Radio Veritas on Thursday.
Asked what his message to Mr. Aquino was, Odchimar said the President should consider the Church?s position on birth control, adding that abortion was a grave crime and ?excommunication is attached to those who commit abortion.?
Asked if Mr. Aquino could be excommunicated if he promoted the use of contraceptives, the bishop replied, according to a transcript provided by the radio: ?That is a possibility.?
Pressed on the matter, Odchimar said that ?it is not a proximate possibility... we are open to dialogue.?
The Inquirer carried his qualification in its Thursday editions.
Mistakes in media, transcript
In a press briefing, CBCP media director Msgr. Pedro Quitorio said Odchimar was ?misunderstood somewhere? and that one of the media had committed mistakes.
He noted there were some mistakes in the transcript of the CBCP president?s interview on Radio Veritas.
Quitorio said that while abortion was a ground for automatic excommunication, merely advocating the use of contraceptives was not enough basis for a harsh penalty.
?How would you know if that (contraceptive) being distributed was really used?? he said. But a directive obliging couples to use artificial birth control is entirely a different matter that has to be studied by canon law experts, he added.
Tagbilaran Bishop Leonardo Medroso, a canon law expert, said the culpability of those advocating artificial birth control had yet to be studied since they had no direct participation in the act of abortion.
?The penalty has to be given only for a very, very particular crime,? Medroso said on Radio Veritas.
Church officials have argued that contraception is a type of abortion, which is banned by the Constitution.
An act of abortion
Odchimar on Friday said he maintained the traditional position of the Church?that human life starts at conception and not at implantation.
?Some contraceptive pills and devices are abortifacient... any completed act to expel or kill the fertilized ovum is considered to be an act of abortion,? he said.
Protesters hit Church stance
CBCP secretary general Msgr. Juanito Figura said the Church was not entirely dismissing the reproductive health bill.
?The CBCP acknowledges some elements of the RH bill that are good points but what it is opposing is its present form and content which is antilife and antifamily,? Figura said.
A group of pro-RH advocates trooped to the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila, to condemn the Church for interfering in government-mandated initiatives for reproductive health.
Rhoda Avila of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines told Figura her group was urging the Church to stop spreading ?lies? about birth control and allow the government to do its work in providing Filipinos an affordable and accessible reproductive health program.
A slight tension occurred during the 15-minute dialogue while Figura was explaining that the Church was not interfering but ?merely issuing guidelines.?
?Based on what? On your non-sexual experience?? protester Marlon Lacsamana snapped.
The priest appealed for respect from the protester, saying he had come out of his office to listen to their concerns.
Figura also explained that what critics were labeling as ?meddling? by the Church was actually a collaboration between the government and the Church.
In many instances, he noted, government agencies had sought the opinion and suggestions of the CBCP on problems confronting the country, such as the plight of overseas workers and illegal mining.
?This is not us meddling because the government itself is seeking and soliciting the help of the CBCP,? said Figura.