Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Part I: from history to humanae vitae

1. Birth control has become a sensitive issue not just for secular society but for the Church too. It requires a study using many fields…many expertise. Of course there is the medical side. There is the psychological side. Sociology  and anthropology may have something to say. There is the judicial-legal and there is the political.  Then of course, there is economics and there is demography (or the study of population growth). Let us not forget the moral side.
2. It is hard to see all aspects. Let us try exploring…. Of course we must stay within the region of moral theology and the social doctrine of the Church.
3. First, let us set the limits in terms of vocabulary. One word we hear is “contraception”. It is the will and intention to control birth using specific practices, artificial or natural. There is the use of the condom, the pill, vasectomy, the ceasing of the capacity to have babies, and the natural regulation of birth. Now for purposes of facilitating our discussion, we shall refer exclusively to the artificial when we say “contraceptive”.
4. The natural method implies adapting to the “best moment” of the wife in the course of her menstrual cycle. So there is prudence involved. This, we will not include in the word contraceptive or contraception.
5. Recall anthropology. In traditional societies there is no sophisticated (i.e., modern) science of birth and pregnancy. For example traditional societies did not yet have an idea of the role of the sperm and the egg…how they are genetically working. But, even traditional societies had ethical rules too…and they too had their ways of birth control. There was the method of interrupting coitus. There was pressure put on the woman’s womb. Herbs and other substances were used. In traditional societies but already within the modern world, the pill and other things have become part of people’s use. Let us not forget abortion. It is also practiced in many occasions.
6. What is the role of the man and the role of the woman? Traditionally the man “transmitted” and the woman was the receptacle. It was like “agricultural”. The woman was the earth and the man put in the seed. Ethically some traditional societies would say that throwing away the seed would be wrong. (In some societies—notably in Europe—it was believed that the woman had some psychic element that had to be part of her womb…it had to be secreted into the womb. For that to happen, she needed pleasure. That explained the pleasure that had to accompany coitus.)
7. In all cases, however, there was always the sense of transmitting life. There was the idea of procreation….and this was always understood to be part of conjugal life.
8. Traditionally marriage was always associated with having babies. No, it did not have to involve “having fun”. Simply to “have fun” without the aim of having babies was wrong! So it was also wrong to get rid of babies. (It is not our purpose here to explore history…but it may be interesting to note how St. Augustine had a big role here. Sexual pleasure for him was a “punishment” coming from original sin! So in marriage, that pleasure need not be central. St. Augustine was reacting to Pelagius who said that sin comes from imitation. If there is nothing to imitate, then there is not sin. St. Augustine did not like this because it would remove the role of Christ. Christ had to save us from something we could not remove ourselves—and so came the concept of “original sin”—the sin we inherited. Confusing eh? Indeed. But that is history. St. Augustine was trying his best to declare his faith. “Original sin” was more of a confession of faith in Christ.)
9. The consequence of St. Augustine’s position for marriage is this: get married to have babies…not for pleasure. So the sexual act was not for pleasure but for the responsibility of transmitting life.
10.     Years later, this idea would continue to be part of Christian married life. Here is a text from St. Francis of Sales: “The marriage bed should be undefiled, as the Apostle tells us,i.e. pure, as it was when it was first instituted in the earthly Paradise, wherein no unruly desires or impure thought might enter. All that is merely earthly must be treated as means to fulfil the end God sets before His creatures. Thus we eat in order to preserve life, moderately, voluntarily, and without seeking an undue, unworthy satisfaction therefrom. "The time is short," says Saint Paul; "it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had not, and they that use this world, as not abusing it" (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III/39).
11.     In more modern times, we read encyclicals of Popes saying the same thing: marriage is for procreation. Pope Pius XII would say: “The marriage contract…established them in a state of life, the married state. Nature and Creator impose upon the married couple who use that state by carrying out its specific act, the duty of providing for the conservation of the human race. Herein we have the characteristic service which gives their state its peculiar value — the good of the offspring. Both the individual and society, the people and the State, and the Church herself, depend for their existence on the order which God has established on fruitful marriage. Hence, to embrace the married state… and deliberately to seek to evade its primary duty without serious reasons, would be to sin against the very meaning of married life” (VEGLIARE CON SOLLECITUDINE, The primary duty).  Note the bold letters.
12.     The growth of population, however, has become a major issue in modernity. Infant mortality has decreased…More and more babies started to be a reality. This pressure of population became a point to consider for marriage. For a time when using contraceptives was not yet common, the idea of getting married had to come later in age. So getting married older than teen age years became common. This late marriage became an important element in population control…for some time, in early 1900’s. It was not exactly happening everywhere, but it had a significant role.
13.     In other words, it was possible to have mastery over fertility. Do not marry at once. Avoid the contact for a while. Abstain even for a while. It was possible to manage having babies and be careful of how many babies to have. It was possible to plan. This was possible even before the wide introduction of the contraceptives that we know today. “When examining demographic trends, the magisterium of the church reaffirms the sacred nature of human life, responsibility for the transmission of life, the inherent rights of fatherhood and motherhood, the values of marriage and family life, in the context of which children are the gift of God the Creator” (ETHICAL AND PASTORAL DIMENSIONS OF POPULATION TRENDS 1994). The Church has always affirmed that self-regulation was (and is) possible.
14.     But then there was the influence of Malthus who said that population growth could go well beyond the capacity of resources to feed the population. So it might be necessary to “control” population. The remedy could be “destructive” or “preventive”…So the door  even to abortion is opened. The door to contraception is opened too.
15.     Many conferences have been organized to discuss this issue of population. The Church has been consistent with her stand: the human couple is capable of managing its relationship and managing resources. There is an assumed confidence in the humanity of married couples. Popes have addressed the issue. We can name some encyclicals: Humanae vitae, of Pope Paul VI, 1968; Familiaris consortio and Evangelium vitae,both of Pope John-Paul II.
16.     Vatican II had no clear mention of the use of contraceptives. Well, Gaudium et spes had a bit on it: “The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law” (GS 51). Note the word in bold. Notice how the Church takes seriously her confidence in the human couple to really self-regulate—“in the context of true love”. This context is primarily in terms of “mutual self-giving” and procreation. So if there is talk of “birth control”…well, the remedy is to self-regulate.
17.     Of course there is still the question of expressing love through the sexual act. Surely couples will not simply think of self-regulation…not always. Is the Church prohibiting this? Is the Church going against the “natural” passions of couples?
18.     Pope Paul VI tried to address this. He came out with an encyclical: Humanae vitae.
19.     The encyclical stressed that it is not so ok to use artificial means. There is the “natural law” to respect and this natural law is inscribed in the biological constitution of man and woman. So do not separate sexual union with procreation. If there is need to “control birth”, do it with self-regulation. Let us focus on #11-14. We cite some parts.

Observing the Natural Law
11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' …. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)

Union and Procreation
12. This particular doctrine… is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.
The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

Faithfulness to God's Design
13. Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one's partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator.

Unlawful Birth Control Methods
14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. …. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

20.     It will be helpful to read the whole encyclical. If possible, at least the whole of #11-14. Here we put in bold central aspects. Note them well. Marriage means the capacity to give oneself, integral and total. In marriage there is responsibility—of course. There is the role of the natural law. Natural law dictates that procreation is central in marriage. This is even in the biological condition of the human being. Union and procreation always stay together—this is in the plan of God. Artificial means are not allowed. But natural methods are ok. It is interesting to note the confidence given to the human being—the human self-regulate. The human can have mastery over oneself. If all these elements are not respected, there is a big chance of infidelity, loss of respect for the wife who becomes object of pleasure, the responsibility to the family breaks down.
21.     What do you think? How would you receive this teaching? It takes guts to welcome it…given all the human fragility we have. His requires long work, a long discernment. Maybe there is even a call for conversion somewhere.
22.     Many found the encyclical too harsh…too “old-fashion”. In modernity there is, more and more, “sexual liberation” and many say that the Pope is far from recognizing this. Let us look deep into the issue.
23.     The issue is that many people really love each other. They express this love in many ways—including the sexual act. But the encyclical takes a hard position. How do we reconcile the “practical” and the ideal? Many couples want to be truly Christian. But must they live in constant guilt each time the do the sexual act for the sake of it and not for procreation?
24.     Later came Pope John Paul II. He thought of what is called “the law of graduality”. He wrote an encyclical, Familiaris Consortio, dealing with this. Let us check it out a bit.

“What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man… patiently be led forward, arriving at a richer understanding and a fuller integration of this mystery in their lives” (Familiaris consortio 9).
“But man, …is an historical being who day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth. Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly…. They … must consider it (the law) as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy.
"And so what is known as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with 'gradualness of the law,' as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for different individuals and situations. In God's plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God…. On the same lines, it is part of the Church's pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm” (Familiaris consortio 34).

25.     Again, it is very helpful to read the whole encyclical or at least these two sections (9 and 34). We removed some parts. Notice what is said about the “law of graduality”. Moral life is not lived in one click. We grow in moral life. Slowly we learn to respond to the plan of God…”gradually”. It is not the law that is gradual, it is our growth in adjusting to it and complying with it. Note that at the end the Pope will exhort couples to obey the encyclical Humanae Vitae…slowly move to complying with it, gradually.
26.     In moral theology we saw this. There are non-negotiable moral norms. Maybe we are not able to follow them strictly, so we move gradually. The norms stay—stable and solid.
27.     Remember also what we said about the “perfection of the Father”, as taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. We must be perfect like the father (see Matt.5/48). But this perfection is not impossible for us to do. We grow in it gradually. We are called to be perfect like the Father. We are called to be “holy”, in other words. This is clear in Jesus, he calls us to this. But our response comes gradually. The teachings of the Church—like the Humanae vitae—are not designed to harm us. What we can do is do what we can. Firmly we move gradually closer to what the teachings affirm.

Part II: From humanae vitae

1. The encyclical Humanae Vitae has been widely questioned and criticized. The discussions continue. One Pope had taken the defense of the encyclical. This was Pope John-Paul II. Here is from what he said on the “Church's Position on Transmission of Life”:

“In the conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect, because both the one and the other pertain to the intimate truth of the conjugal act. The one is activated together with the other and in a certain sense the one by means of the other. This is what the Encyclical teaches (Humanae vitae 12). Therefore, in such a case the conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be an act of love. It can be said that in the case of an artificial separation of these two aspects, a real bodily union is carried out in the conjugal act, but it does not correspond to the interior truth and to the dignity of personal communion: communion of persons. This communion demands that the language of the body be expressed reciprocally in the integral truth of its meaning. If this truth be lacking, one cannot speak either of the truth of self-mastery, or of the truth of the reciprocal gift and of the reciprocal acceptance of self on the part of the person. Such a violation of the interior order of conjugal union, which is rooted in the very order of the person, constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act (Church's Position on Transmission of Life 6-7).

2. Note what the Pope is emphasizing—and we put in bold letters. The conjugal act is also procreative act. Deprive the conjugal act of procreation is to deny the act of love. Pope John Paul II puts the husband and wife in a challenge: in the union of two bodies how can that union be truly a union of persons, integral and true? Humans and persons are capable of self-mastery and of reciprocity. The contraceptive act refuses to recognize this human capacity.
3. Priests have their manual for confessions. They are “handbooks” which serve as references when they need to think about what to say to those who go to confession. (We are probably not so aware of this…but priests always have this. So during the RH debate in the Philippines, when priests were reacting, they had a reference point.) Look at what the handbook for married people will say about marriage and procreation:

“The virtue of conjugal chastity ‘involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift’, and through it sexuality ‘becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman’. This virtue, in so far as it refers to the intimate relations of the spouses, requires that ‘the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love’ be maintained. Therefore, among the fundamental moral principles of conjugal life, it is necessary to keep in mind ‘the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life. (Vademecum for confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life Intro 2 and 2/4).

4. So it is in the tradition of the Church to refuse the sexual act the is oriented to infertile results—contraception. Contraception is intrinsically evil. Conjugal love is always related with procreation. So even married people stay chaste—this is conjugal chastity. Contraception is opposed to this chastity. It is opposed to the transmission of life—and transmission is in the will of God. It harms conjugal love. Note what the handbook says: contraception is irreformable. (So now we see why priests in the Philippines are so firm in their stand…this is what their handbook says!
5. If we think back to our Genesis reflection, this handbook seems to be saying that the human being is a “steward” of creation. The human being is not the owner of the world. Procreation is part of stewardship. God creates, the human pro-creates.
6. Take a look at this practice: “…it is always necessary to assist the spouses, also in the moment of the sacrament of Reconciliation, to examine themselves on the specific duties of conjugal life. Whenever the confessor considers it necessary to question the penitent, he should do so with discretion and respect.” (Vademecum for confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life 2/7). The priest is not obliged to investigate the person confessing—he is not to ask questions on topics that the person confessing does not talk about. The priest must always favor the good of the penitent—not castigate the penitent. Of course if there are strong indications that contraception is an issue, the priest may have to provoke questions. But this is just to clarify and not to look for details.

The Contraceptive Mentality

7. We say that when a man and a woman get married, they will share lives in full confidence to each other…each will say: “I give myself to you”. It is a “mutual self-giving”…for all life…”’til death do us part”. Contraception is a path of not sharing a part of oneself. What is this part? My fertility. I share all that I am to you—all except my fertility. Our mutual self-giving has limits. We will mutually self-give up to a certain point which is our fertility. We are willing to have full confidence with each other, except in terms of fertility. So a reservation is made.
8. This opens the door to many other reservations. If fertility can be reserved, the why not… We can imagine many things. We can reserve resources—“oh now I can keep some for myself and not share”. We can reserve certain information—“oh now I do not have to tell you what happened to me during the day”. We can reserve friends—“Oh I do not have to tell you I have friendship with that person…and I do not have to tell you what we do together”. Etc. Next thing we know, we ask for a separation and divorce.
9. We reserve more…we share less. The unconditional love professed during marriage slowly falls apart. When contraception fails—and the wife becomes pregnant—the door to abortion is next opened. See what contraceptive mentality is. It is a cultural behavior that opens many doors.
10.     Of course there is, maybe, an exaggeration here. Surely there are married people who have successful married lives even while practicing contraception. But we try to appreciate the stand of the Church. Let us be aware of the risks involved in the contraceptive mentality.
11.     Some reference questions may have to be raised when living in a culture of contraceptive mentality. (Note that you are going to be teachers and formators later on. You might need to discuss contraception with your students.) 

Will there be respect for the body of the woman (…her integrity, her rhythm…he health….)?
Will the choice for using contraceptives be a fruit of dialogue and consultation not just with each other but with competent people—including people in the Church?
If a method is chosen to control birth, will it affect fertility?
What about our sexual relations—will it become simply a matter of “habit” and less of love?  Will the method used lead to the destruction of a possible human life that will be conceived?

12.     What about the “natural method”?  There is the Ogino-Kanuss method. The Doctor Billings method. … There is the “pull out” method—the style of Onan in the Bible. There is the “knowing the right time” method…that is, regulating according to the menstrual period of the wife. These involve watching closely the ways of the wife’s body…So the intimate secretions of the wife must be closely observed by the couple. This implies a dialogue between the husband and the wife. His dialogue will tell both of them “when to do it”, that is, the conjugal act. 
13.     Can this be done in an adult way?  This is what the Church would like to say. Self-regulation and matured treatment of the body and sexuality are part of the “culture” of marriage. Today we seem to be so “free” with “sex”… How about a serious, not hedonistic, approach to sex?
14.     What about Onan? (See Gen 38/8-10). Well, it was about cheating…Onan was not true to his word. The Church would not go for this style. It is not just a lack of fidelity to what one says it is also about putting that to action. The “pulling out” is cheating. He promised descendance…he was not true to his word…and he pulled out. Many still doubt this is wrong…. So the debate continues.


15.     So we come to the end of our discussion—a “very conservative” discussion, we admit. In the world today where “sex” is “more liberal”, the stand of the Church may, indeed, look so conservative. This is a course in theology—we look at the Church’s stand. Let us try to appreciate what she says. She talks about sex—and fertility. It is a “power” we have—something given to us in creation. It is a power of the “male-female” that becomes “man-woman”. This power puts a child in the world. It is not a power to be joked with.
16.     The Church invites married couples to lead a married life. As we saw above in our discussion, there are ways of leading this life. “You may…but”, as Genesis would put it. Not all means of birth control are good, as the Church would say. Abortion destroys life. Contraception is a method that relies on lack of confidence and mutual self-giving of the married couple. It is a way of refusing to “master your mastery”, again as Genesis would say.
17.     Yes, the Church would go for “natural regulation” of birth. This requires maturity and adulthood in marriage.
What do you think?


A few words about the way the Church handles the RH debate in the country of the Philippines
1. We have seen what the Church has done during the hot debate. We have seen Church people…including Bishops and Religious people…go to congress and be visible in their lobby against the RH Bill. After discussing the stand of the Church here in our class, we understand why the Church people behaved that way.
2. But there is also a limit to lobbying and to rally against…. “You may, but”…this rule applies even to Church people. Certain manifestations of Church people need to be questioned. When a big storm hit Mindanao and killed innocent people and destroyed so much properties, we cannot say that it was due God’s refusal of the RH Bill. When individuals wear pro-RH and go to mass, must they be castigated in front of the crowd…and must the communion be preferential against them?
3. What has the Church done to educate the parishioners regarding the debate? To simplify the issue and say that there are only two types of people—the “pro” and the “anti”—is to over simply the issue and to treat people naively. If the Church is the assembly of all members—not just of priests and religious—then the ordained ministry is duty bound to educate the faithful. The maintenance of faith is part of the ordained priest’s job anyway.
4. Finally, to make a political stand on the RH issue and tell people who to vote and not vote….Well, does this not make the Catholic Church a “political party”? Banners and tarpaulins are set up inside parish church compounds. Written are persons not to vote for and persons to vote for. This is a political campaign done by the parish! This is not the way of the Church. Already the Philippine Church said this a long time ago: "The Church's competence in passing moral judgments even in matters political has been traditionally interpreted as pertaining to the clergy. Negatively put, the clergy can teach moral doctrines covering politics but cannot actively involve themselves in partisan politics. Religious men and women are also included in this prohibition" (PCP-II, 340). But lay people have competence in active and direct partisan politics. (PCP-II, 341). The laity may do partisan politics…but cannot use the parishes for their advocacies.    

Monday, February 22, 2016

Mission and Compromising Christ

1.  Religion has been accused of being a source of violence and discrimination in societies. It is curious now that one of the reasons why inter-religious dialogue is promoted is to address this problem of violence and discrimination. Religion itself is, hopefully, a possible vehicle for peace and human integrity. Pope Francis, in an audience with people engaged in this dialogue, emphasized this “walking together” of people of the different religious traditions to face together the major problems. Curious enough is that there is no more language for polemics. No more do we read about the Church documents saying (even implying) that “my religion is superior to your religion”.
2.  We recall the levels of dialogue as proposed by the document Dialogue and Proclamation. First there is dialogue of life, second is dialogue of action, third is dialogue of prayer and fourth is dialogue of theological exchange. Let us look at this fourth one, theological exchange. We can “visit” the documents we read and see how they present themselves in front of religions.
3.  If we observe the way the documents have evolved over time we cannot avoid but say that the Church is doing her best to relate with the other religions. She is not stuck in a century mentality that refuses to move and dialogue. We might criticize her, wrestle with her. We know how “lousy” many Christians can get. But never can we say that the Church is junk. She is filled with sinners but she continues to be holy by virtue of her vocation. Many people in the Church think, reflect, discern and speak out with courage and humility.
4.  Observe some changes in the language of the documents we read. In the Vatican II document Ad gentes we read about the urgency to convert others. Although the Church evaluates positively other religions—and this is considered to be quite revolutionary in the Church—she still holds a kind of “high” status with the urgency, precisely, to proclaim and implant the Church. The document in fact leads us to strongly consider the establishment of a hierarchical Local Church, later sent on mission, as an ending point of mission.
5.  We do not see this language in the last document we read, Dialogue and Proclamation (DP). In the DP the Church is presented as a community of disciples touched by intimacy with Christ.
6.  In the Ad gentes document we read about salvation as a matter of bringing, still, people out of the darkness they are in. There is a strong negative tone in it. We do not see this in DP. Over the course of time salvation has been understood as adherence to the person and message of Christ. It is not to draw people out of their own miserable darkness it is to introduce them to the light and truth that is seen in Christ. Not to adhere is not even an issue made in the DP. In the documents of the Asian Bishops we read that it is even alright for the Church to remain as minority within the Asian population.
7.  The encounter of different religious authorities in Assisi, initiated by Pope John Paul II, was a significant event in dialogue. From then on there was a stronger emphasis on the validity of the religious traditions. The question of “salvation” continues to be a major question and it seems to be a stumbling block for some Christians who do not want to feel superior to other religions. In the Christian tradition Jesus Christ is the unique mediator. All humanity still finds salvation in him. People of other religious traditions are not saved by their traditions nor by their mediators. They are saved by Christ.
8.  In the DP we read that the Christian presence with others may stimulate others to raise questions about life and existence. Consequently the Christian may invite others to the Christian faith. But then, interestingly enough, the DP admits and recognizes as normal the fact that people of other religious traditions will also stimulate us, Christians, to raise questions and that they too will invite us to their religious traditions. This signals something to us.
9.  It is perfectly normal that each religious tradition will believe the the centrality of salvation or redemption is in that tradition. It is perfectly normal, for example, that a Muslim will say that all will be saved within Islam. It is normal for a Christian to believe in Jesus Christ as unique mediator Saviour of all. To hold a stand is itself a condition of being-in-the-world. It is the condition of being “incarnated”. We are all incarnated creatures—humans in flesh, in body, in space and time and in cultures.
10.       To ask ourselves to take no stand, to hold no position is to deny our incarnational existence. We are asking ourselves to be pure spirits with access to all reality. This is unlikely to happen.
11.       If we are afraid of the term “being-superior” to others, let us read the DP in depth. Note the language of the document. There is no talk of imposing. There is no talk of “superior” versus “inferior”. There is not talk of who is better than the other. If we think that the Church is like this today—at least on the documentary level—we belong to another century. We are stuck somewhere in time. The Church has evolved. The Church today—at least on the documentary level—is no longer what we imagined her to be during the times of colonialization. As early as the document of Pope Paul VI, the Evangelii nuntiandi, we see it clearly that the language of Church documents have withdrawn from the “feeling superior” approach. Precisely we are a Church of dialogue. The Asian bishops have expressed it clearly: no more elitism in the Asian world.
12.       The Asian bishops have shown efforts to move in this direction. Of course Church behavior in the concrete is another matter for discussion. (We also have “fundamentalists”—people who refuse the existence of pluralism—in the Church.) But again, on the documentary (theological) level, the Church—and notably the Church in Asia—has evolved to a moral dialogical style. Remember that the Asian bishops see the Church more as inter-gentes. Is that not dialogical?
13.       The DP notes that we Christians tend to feel exceptional. This may be true. Yes, at one point in history Christians really felt “superior” and “above” other religions. That was the period of exclusivism. But then today many Christians want to be an exception and this time by willing to compromise the faith. While people of other religious traditions hold on to their faith, some Christians are exceptionally willing to give up their own faith because they do not want to be “superior”. So as not to offend others, some Christians would rather drop their own Jesus Christ.
14.       Have we not noticed that when a Christian says that “Muslims are ‘terrorists’” fellow Christians will be quick in correcting that. That is a swift and proper correction, it must be done. But then if another Christian says that the Church is imposing and her gospel message terrorizes cultures, correction does not come quickly. Is it possible that many among us Christians today tend to feel “low self esteem” regarding our faith? This is a question we can ponder on.
15.       There is a danger of “intolerance”. Once upon a time religions looked so intolerant. Today we want to be pluralistic. Pluralism calls for “tolerance” of differences and uniqueness. This is alright. But together with this is a possible danger which is the rise of intolerance against the right of a religion to have its own mediator. Within our own Christian world with some Christians exceptionally trying to be so tolerant of other faiths we might become intolerant of our very own belief in Christ as unique mediator. Some of us do not want him to be Saviour; we cannot seem to tolerate it! If once upon a time Christianity seemed to be such an intolerant religion today we notice that some Christians, for the sake of relating with people of other religions, have become intolerant of Christianity.
16.       Let us be realistic. Which religion wants to compromise itself? This is why we have dialogue. If a Christian wants to compromise his or her faith for the sake of dialogue this Christian is not really into dialogue. Dialogue accepts differences. Dialogue is based on the recognition of pluralism. If out of respect for this pluralism a Christian compromises the Christian faith in Jesus Christ then this Christian stops admitting pluralism and fuses with others. This is no longer dialogue. Meanwhile others are not giving up their faiths and beliefs; they do not fuse, they dialogue. Others continue to be who they are; they continue to accept dialogue. After the Ratisbon event of Pope Benedict XVI, a group of Muslims wrote him a letter telling him of their desire to dialogue with Christians—and emphasizing that they continue to be Muslims. Notice the risk a Christian might do: become someone who tries to be nobody in the midst of people who are firm with their religious identities.
17.       There is a trend in dialogue circles called “relative pluralism”. This approach does not promote any single religious tradition. It is said to be influenced by the Kantian philosophy in which there is the level of experience that is so beyond what we perceive and know. Religions belong to the perception level while the true God belongs to the “beyond”. So all religions actually revolve around that God “beyond”. People in religious traditions do not say this. It is the relative pluralists who say this. This is a construct of the relative pluralists.
18.       Everyone, according to the relative pluralist, is under that one single God who is “beyond”. Although this is attractive it is violating dialogue. Why? This position, the relative pluralist position, wants to place everyone in a new box—a box constructed by the relative pluralist. Dialogue stops here. For the Christian God is Trinitarian. For the Muslim God is Allah and so Transcendent. The relative pluralist will say that these two may look different—since they have different fields of perception—but they have actually the same God who is “beyond” and encompasses them.
19.       Where is that God? That God is in the relative pluralist’s box; the Muslim and the Christian are told to enter that box. So that both the Christian and the Muslim be united, they are put in the box and will have “the same God”. The Christian cannot resonate with this “same God”…nor the Muslim. The relative pluralist is actually creating a new religion. Christians with an exceptional attitude of compromising the Christian faith can be so attractive to this because it will allow them to compromise the Christian faith. It will allow them to do what they want to do.
20.       Dialogue presupposes differences. Dialogue presupposes pluralism. It is not a task of making everyone uniform. It is a task of making all—in their differences—communicate together. This is where Pope Francis is most practical and realistic. Sure we are different and unique in our religious traditions and we may all be irreconcilable with our notions of mediators. But Pope Francis asks us to walk together and work out the problems of violence, discrimination, unjust inequality, ecological disaster, etc. If over the centuries religions have been sources of conflicts and pain for many people, why can religious traditions not enter into dialogue to be sources of peace and respect and fraternity?

21.       Certain trends seem to be happening today within the Catholic side…in theology of religious pluralism, in philosophy of religion and even in spirituality and mysticism. We will need space and time and more study for these…. 

Intolerance and rationality posted February 22, 2016 at 12:01 am by Fr. Ranhilio Aquino

The blows dealt him by his critics—not counting the dent in his finances from Nike’s decision—certainly stung more than any he had received in the ring.   Many of them were completely disproportionate; many of them were grossly unfair.   But he could have been better advised.   I do not know what Aling Dionisia and Jinky advised him, but he should have sought wise and prudent counsel. There could have been a way of making the same point in less abrasive a manner.   Similes and metaphors can be enlightening. In this case they were distracting and destructive!
What should really set off alarm bells, however, is the virulence and hysteria of the reactions coming in the wake of Manny’s rejection of same-sex unions. And the paradox should not escape any thoughtful person: What we saw was a display of ferocious intolerance in the name of tolerance! Pacquiao was called a bigot, an ignoramus, a human-rights violator, a discriminator. The proponents of same-sex unions it seems are intolerant of opinions other than theirs, a posturing they claim is the proper disposition of tolerance!
Plurality is the distinctive phenomenon of modernity.   Conceptual frames, value systems and ideologies once controlling have not really disappeared. They merely have lost their grip because a plurality of alternatives is now available and tolerance for this often-confusing plurality has been rendered normative by a particular rendering of democracy and the transmutation of tolerance into constitutionally guaranteed rights: the freedoms of religion, thought and expression, research and dissemination principally.
But tolerance is no magic formula, no master-word.   In fact, it is self-limiting. Our tolerance for a variety of religious beliefs, no matter how bizarre, has engendered a dangerous society that harbors individuals who are quite willing and frankly determined to kill and maim in the name of God.   And that is just the problem with a society that has discredited the notion of natural law. When the objective referent of all discourse has been eliminated, how does one deal with contradictory propositions except through “tolerance” which simply means allowing contradictions to exist side by side, until the time comes that it becomes impossible for them to do so. And for the starry-eyed who foolishly think that contradictories can continue in peaceful co-existence, our dangerous times should be clear proof of the folly of this assumption. By “self-limiting,” I point to the dangerous times we live in.   There are many for whom the utterance of a contrary view is “blasphemous.” Paquiao’s fate is a more recent demonstration.   He expressed his opinion—thinking that the Constitution allowed him to do so—and reaped a whirlwind of national opprobrium!
The problem is not with natural law but with those who do not understand it, and I fear it most when people who should know better utter it with the contemptible unction of the pretentious! Many think it as the argument that makes of propositions of fact statements of norms—the famous accusation that natural law effects the illogical shift from “is” to “ought.” “The door is open,” therefore, “It ought to be open.”   That is clearly ridiculous, and I know of no proponent of natural law—none especially among the High Scholastics who wrote prodigiously on it—who thought of it in this fashion. And G.E. Moore who is credited with having formulated the charge of the “naturalistic fallacy” did so only to advance his own agenda: to make of normative propositions a class all their own, leaving dangerously open the question of their rational and discursive anchorage!
To refer to natural law is to allow for the arbitration of “sound reason.”   In other words, it is to insist on reasonability and the settlement of disputes by the sheer force of argument.   “Satyagraha”—truth-force—is what Gandhi called it.   “Communicative action” is what it is for Habermas. Is the matter of same-sex unions together with other contentious issues ultimately a matter of “choice” with no way of settling the disagreement? Ultimately then, a matter of live and let live, in the full knowledge that at some time, it is no longer possible for contradictories to “live” together? But unless one has given up on rationality, which is ultimately a very dangerous thing, then there has to be a way of deciding the issue.   When one claims that his faith in God obligates him to blow up and send to kingdom come all who do not share his belief, and another claims that his faith commands him to love even his enemies, surely this is not a disagreement that will be quieted by the mantra of “tolerance,” precisely because one position is intolerant!   There has to be the willingness to argue one’s position, to adduce argument, to rebut opposition and to allow the better reason to prevail.
But, aye, there’s the rub.  How many are there who are willing to allow the better reason to prevail?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Do Catholics have the right to express themselves?

1.  Secularism (with its pluralistic perspective) itself has truly become part of our cultural climate. Long ago religion was intolerant of it. Maybe we see a kind of “religious indifference” which does not, however, reject spirituality and interests for “ultimate meaning”. It may be a rejection of religion as religion has been so present for … well… centuries. One might say “organized religion”. Well, there is a growing indifference towards certain doctrines and morals expounded by religions.
2.  Yes, some say that religion imposes and should set free the “liberty” of people to choose any form of life structures they want. Then they say that whenever something about religion is said it should not be tolerated because it becomes an imposition. Once upon a time religions did not tolerate secularism and even pluralism. Today it is secularism and pluralism that cannot tolerate religions. This reminds me of what Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation of Faith, wrote some years back:

“In democratic societies, all proposals are freely discussed and examined. Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism” (Doctrinal note on Catholic participation in political life #6).

3.  When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI he wrote a letter to the members of the International Theological Commission (5 October 2007) Here is part of his letter:

“…humanity or society or indeed the majority of citizens is becoming the ultimate source of civil law. The problem that arises is not, therefore, the search for good but the search for power, or rather, how to balance powers. At the root of this trend is ethical relativism, which some even see as one of the principal conditions for democracy, since relativism is supposed to guarantee tolerance of and reciprocal respect for people. But if this were so, the majority of a moment would become the ultimate source of law. History very clearly shows that most people can err. True rationality is not guaranteed by the consensus of a large number but solely by the transparency of human reason to creative Reason and by listening together to this Source of our rationality”.  

4. Indeed Catholics—and people of other religious traditions—can express themselves. Of course they are not to impose. We are so allergic to that, are we not? But to speak out and share their views of ethics and even faith….yes they can share.
5.  In the Veritatis splendor of Pope John Paul II and in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (and in some other Church documents) this question of “influencing” society has become a matter of concern. The Church has been accused of imposing too much on society. Indeed, history can prove this. But even this heavily accused Church also knows how to evolve.
6.  I used to think, in my younger years, that “I knew better” than the Church. But no, this is stupid. Many Church people are also people who think well and dialogue with the world. Underneath the “stupid” things I used to see in the Church is a well of wisdom. Really. So when it comes to imposition, this is not anymore the style of the Church—at least in terms of documents she publishes. (How she conducts herself, like here in the Philippines, is another story…very sad in some ways….)
7.  So in terms of imposition the documents are clear: no force and no imposition. The style now is to “guide the conscience” of the faithful. Hence there is what is called “magisterium” which is actually a “teaching office”. Pope John Paul II wrote: “The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience” (Veritatis splendor #64).This is “to obtain the truth with certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis splendor #64).

What does the Church say about homosexuality? (With Manny Pacquiao mentioned)

      Manny Pacquiao’s recent statements have opened up a lot of discussions about homosexuality. Biblical views on it have suddenly filled many facebook posts. That’s maybe because Pacquiao himself cited the Bible.
During my not-so-younger years friends and I were reading the Veritatis splendor of Pope John Paul II. At that time a moral theologian was quite widely read. He was Xavier Thevenot. Then also two books came out, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the Catechism for Adults in France. My friends and I were doing moral theology then so we had to read these documents. Let me recall what I read regarding this topic of Pacquiao…well, no, not Pacquiao himself but about homosexuality. I am here reporting what I recall about the Church stand. The reader may agree or disagree.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) (#2357) states that homosexuality “has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained”. The view of the Church on homosexuality has evolved due to the contributions of the sciences. The sciences, notably the human sciences, have underlined the ambivalence of sexual desires during stages of human psychological development. Theologians of morality themselves try to refine their judgement on this matter. Homosexuality cannot be simply called a “vice”.
The CCC continues to say that there are many with homosexual tendencies, their number “is not negligible”. The inclination is a trial for many. Hence, the CCC states that the homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC #2358).
But then there are the homosexual acts. Note that now it is this time about the “acts”. The CCC states that the acts are “acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” [#2357]. The orientation is not a moral fault; the doing of acts are contrary to the doctrines of the Church and therefore “intrinsically disordered”.
Now the word “disordered” sounds harsh. When the CCC uses this word it picks it up from the vocabulary of traditional moral theology. “Disordered” would mean that which deviates from the moral norm. The norm consists of sexual relation with the opposite sex and not with the same sex. To be homosexual is not morally bad; it is not morally good. The homosexual genital acts are the ones that are to be evaluated morally.
Here is a statement from Cardinal Ratzinger himself. “What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well” (Cardinal Ratzinger, Letter of Congregation of Faith, October 1986 #11).
A person cannot be reduced to a definition especially when it is about homosexuality. Even homosexual friendship cannot be denied its value. It is not the person nor the personality that must be considered “disordered”. Both gays and straight people can show true friendship and love.
We do not read in Scriptures about Jesus enclosing people in what makes them suffer even if the suffering is so obvious. We can think of the publican Zacchaeus stuck in his status and the Samaritan woman stuck in her sexual struggles.
Now Xavier Thevenot, if I remember, has something to say here. He (was) a moral theologian and an expert too in the psychological views of Freud and Lacan. He says that a child grows up (obvious ba?) and discovers how to differentiate from fusional relationship. Through socialization the child learns to see how she/he is “different”. A boy sees he is not a girl. A girl sees she is not a boy. A child sees she/he is not adult. Etc. The gradual discovery of differences leads the child to change and to relate with “objects” other that her/his own body. The capacity to be relational as man or woman, in adulthood, depends on how the child in earlier years has integrated the differences. It also depends on how the child in the earlier years has resisted the temptation to return to the fusional pattern.
Homosexuality, for Thevenot, is the resistance to the sexual difference; something happened in the development of the child that may have stopped the child from moving towards heterosexuality.
Hence to say that homosexual practices have the same value as heterosexual practices is to say also that indifference and fusional sexual practices are…well, acceptable. Marriage is founded on difference—there is the man and there is the woman. Will this still be considered a right to be respected in society?
And now the Scriptures, which Pacquiao himself banks on. The Sodom story [seeGn 19/1-29] shows the desire for the homosexual act leading to violation. It is not about homosexuality in general. In Lev19/22 and 20/13 there is a condemnation of homosexual acts. The serious problem is the anti-creational pattern of the acts. Differences are not respected and confusion is sowed in the created world that God ordained. Lv 19/19 symbolically summarizes the issue: “do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread”. In other words do not inject confusion in differences. Lv 18 tells us not to sow confusion with sexual relations with relatives for relatives are of the same flesh.
If all unions are allowed we might sow confusion. Differences disappear, including the difference between man and woman. Scripturally homosexuality is considered “anti-creationist”, so to speak. Thevenot cites Scriptures a lot and he says that if the homosexual act is allowed then we blurr the separations that God placed in the original chaos.
The New Testament continues this line. In St. Paul’s time homosexual acts were practiced, like in Corinth. St. Paul considered the acts as disorders in creation [Rm 1/24-27 ; 1 Co 6/9-10 ; 1 Tm 1/10].
The difficulty with citing Scripture passages lies in the possible condemnation of the homosexual person whereas the passages were really more about the disorder made by the acts. Now, if I remember my reading of Veritatis splendor, there it is said that conscience must be obeyed but conscience can err. If a gay couple in conscience thinks that the sexual act is alright, the couple still needs to see how that act is intrinsically a disorder.