(A Pastoral Exhortation on Proposed Bills on Sex Education and Reproductive Health)

It was you who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb;
for all these mysteries I thank you: for the wonder of myself,
for the wonder of your works  (Psalm 139:13-14, Jerusalem Bible).

The divinely inspired words of the psalmist in the Sacred Scriptures frame our reflections. We wish to contribute towards our shared dream to become a nation of integrity. We write this letter on behalf of the community of the faithful entrusted to our spiritual care. We present our reflections to all men and women of good will and address ourselves particularly to the leaders and members of the present government.

CORRUPTION – THE REJECTION OF MORAL AND RELIGIOUS TRUTHS

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” “Without corruption, there will be no poverty.” This was the political rallying cry of our new President. It resonated deeply, and still does, with the longing of our people for truth and integrity, for a moral society.

Allow us to remind you of two timeless and simple but profound truths:

  1. At the foundation of the moral society is a central religious truth – our divine origin and our divinely-given identity as persons. God created our inmost self, our inmost being, and knit us in our mother’s womb. We come from God. We are created by God. Our capacity to understand truth and to love, our capacity to have compassion for the weak and for the feeble – these are divinely-endowed wonders of ourselves, of the persons that we are, wonderfully created unto God’s image and likeness. To respect God’s creative act and to be true to God’s image are at the heart of being moral persons.
  1. Real corruption is moral and spiritual corruption. The rejection or disregard of morality and religious belief is at the core of corruption. Moral and spiritual corruption breeds its kind in other spheres of life –  political, social, and economic.

Therefore, to get rid of corruption at all levels of life we as a people must acknowledge our origin from the creative power of God and must be true to our identity as created unto God’s image and likeness. This moral truth is at the very foundation of a civilization of truth and love, a humane society, a moral society. To disregard moral and religious truths such as this is to be defenseless to the onslaught of corruption. In brief, we have to restore and secure the moral heritage that governs us as persons, our social relationships, and our institutions.

All the faithful, clergy religious and laity, and all our religious institutions are called to proclaim these moral and religious truths. It is our divine mission. Our action or lack of action might sometimes, sadly, contradict our call and weaken our credibility. But realizing this with the deepest sorrow we nonetheless cannot abdicate our duty and mission. We have to vigorously proclaim truth and integrity, combat corruption, and help build up a moral society.

But the fight against moral and spiritual corruption in our society is not only the duty of the Church. It is also the duty of the government. This is clear from the Constitution: “The government is to support parents in rearing the youth in the development of moral character…,” (Art 2, sec. 12) “…in the youth’s physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being,” (sec. 13) “…in the school’s role in ethical and spiritual values, development of moral character and personal discipline.” (Art. 14, sec. 3)

For this reason we address two concurrent and related issues that bring serious implications on the good of the faithful – on you as parents, on young people and ultimately on the family — the crucial building block of society. These two issues are: sex education and reproductive health.

1.  SEX EDUCATION: “Adolescent Reproductive Health Through Lifeskills-Based Education

Here are some news reports on sex education that the Department of Education has not disclaimed:

  1. The aim of the sex education program is to curb the population growth rate and reduce HIV incidence among young Filipinos.
  2. Beginning with the 5th grade, information will be given on such topics as reproductive systems, cycles, hygiene, gender identity, pre-marital sex, sexually transmitted diseases.
  3. Given the right information the hope is that the children would make responsible decisions.

We know that sex education concepts have been in place since the 1970’s. The proposed sex education program further highlights and fortifies the concept that contraceptives provide “safe and satisfying sex.” But the following we also know:

  1. The failures rates of contraceptives against sexually transmitted diseases are high.
  2. Oral contraceptive pills are classified as Group I carcinogenic, i.e., “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity.”
  3. With its very liberal sex education programs and its aggressive attitude in pushing contraceptives and condoms for safe sex, the United States still has the highest teen birth rate, 93.0 per 1000, and one of the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) among teens in the industrialized world.

We reiterate that the Church is not against sex education. But for reasons of morality and religious faith, we strongly object to the proposed sex education program. The program is devoid of any substantive moral and religious value formation

By its nature, human sexuality is a sacred gift from God and is destined for a divine purpose. Moral and religious value formation is, therefore, absolutely indispensable in appreciating and treasuring human sexuality. This divine gift must not be taught in a manner emptied of its deep spiritual and moral dimension.

In matters of character formation and nurturance in moral values, it is the parents who possess the fundamental and natural right and duty, a right acknowledged in the Constitution, a right which government may not take away and arrogate unto itself.

Lessons on human sexuality are lessons about love, most importantly about God’s gift of love manifested in the total sexual dimension of the human person. In the familial setting of a human trinity, father, mother, and child, there is a sincere and palpable gift of self and love from the parents. In the family, the lessons of love through human sexuality can be learned with respect and awe for the “wonder of God’s work.” Such setting and such manner of teaching will not be found in a classroom sex education program designed simply to inform and not form. Sex education has to impart a sense of the sacredness of the gift of human sexuality. For sex education to be proper, conscience formation, moral and spiritual guidance must be integrated with the whole process.

2.  REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: “The Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2010” (HB 96)

House Bill 96 is substantially the same Reproductive Health Bill formerly known as HB 5043.

With the utmost concern and urgency we express our strong objection to the fundamental aspects of House Bill 96. The basis of our moral objection is once again the central religious truth of the divine origin and divine image of the human person, of one’s being and life.

Like its predecessor the main purpose of House Bill 96 is to make barren what is by nature fruitful and generative of human life. It promotes contraceptive barriers, techniques, supplies, and services that control fertility as if it were a disease. Science has proven that some contraceptives render the mother’s womb inhospitable, thereby causing abortion. And abortion, as Pope John Paul II has cited in “Evangelium Vitae,” the Gospel of Life, was the instrument of the first systematic population control program by a dominant power on a poor slave population, as narrated in the book of Exodus (cf. Ex. 1: 8-22).

Moreover the Constitution protects “the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception” (Art. II, Sec. 12). And conception is the moment of fertilization. At implantation the new life is already a seven-day old human being.

For this reason, if its ambiguous stand on contraceptives that are not abortifacients is corrected in favor of moral truth, a house bill such as the new House Bill No. 13 (An Act Providing for the Safety and Protection of the Unborn Child and for Other Purposes) is laudable. This bill seeks to make operational the Constitution’s Declaration of Principles and State Policies, where it indicates that “the State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” (Ibid.)

POPULATION AND POVERTY

Many people think that to reduce poverty it is necessary to control population. We would raise serious questions regarding this opinion. Does this opinion not have a certain bias against the poor? In population control are not the real targets the millions of poor families whose numbers must be reduced?

Moreover, it is our belief that the causes of poverty are complex. We believe that poverty is caused by flawed development philosophies, plans and priorities, by corruption, by inequitable wealth distribution and access to economic resources and benefits, by poor delivery of social services, by unjust economic policies, and by imbalances in our political structures that favor the few and powerful over the many poor. It is social injustice that is at the root of poverty. And social injustice is simply another name for moral and spiritual corruption, the jettisoning of moral and spiritual values from private and public life.

If this is so, would not the overwhelming attention to control population be a convenient way to ignore the greater causes that keep our poor people below the poverty line? These are the causes of poverty, the removal of which would comprehensively transform our social order and establish social justice.

CONCLUSION

To plan our families is, indeed, a Christian value and responsibility. This is why we support the couple’s desire for the planning and proper spacing of their children through natural family planning programs in our dioceses. A contraceptive-oriented population control program is not the moral way. Even if powerful organizations in the world might imperiously and ideologically promote and fund such programs we would still object. For we believe that such programs contradict our moral and religious beliefs. Moral truth is not created by the powerful or by popular opinion. Moral truth is what God wills from the Sacred Scriptures, interpreted and taught authentically by the Church’s teaching authority.

The constitutional protection of the unborn child from the first instant of conception is a legacy given to us some twenty years ago during the presidency of President Corazon C. Aquino. In spite of all the foreseeable opposition of politicians and powerful lobby groups, we pray that President Aquino’s moral legacy could be finally and fully realized during the term of her son, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.

May the Good Shepherd, who himself was raised in a family, bless your family and every child who is nurtured in your homes. May Mary, the Queen of the Family, enlighten and inspire our new leader to build a nation of truth and integrity, a truly moral society.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

 

+ NEREO P. ODCHIMAR, D.D.
Bishop of Tandag
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

July 24, 2010

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