Monday, January 3, 2011

The Juridic Protection of the Church Teaching against Contraception

(Part II)

A RECENT column of Atty. Jose Sison (A Law Each Day, The Philippine Star 8.XI.2010, p.15) caught my attention. Quoting an e-mail he received from a Jose Teodoro Sagalo, he focused on what the latter qualified as “grave error that the Loyola School of Theology has posted in the Ateneo website endorsed earlier by Fr. Nebres, Ateneo President, for reflection, and now endorsed by Roberto Rivera of the John Carroll Institute.” A quick check of the primary source verified the presence of the offensive proposals, in a paper issued jointly by the Loyola School of Theology and the John J. Carroll Institute of Church and Social Issues and authored by Fr. Eric O. Genilo, S.J., Fr, John J. Carroll, S.J., and Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J.

My questions are: (1) Does the Catholic Church really teach─in an authentic, infallible, obligatory way─the instrinsic moral evil of contraception, or is this a matter of religious persuasion, therefore admitting of a variety of interpretations in a pluralistic society like the Philippines? (2) If the Church indeed officially teaches the intrinsic evil of contraception, can a Catholic institution─like the Loyola School of Theology─publicly propose otherwise, and get away with it? In other words, is there no provision in Church Law against a Catholic School of Theology teaching something contrary to Catholic Doctrine?

These questions bring to a head something which I had been wanting to address in this forum for some time: the juridic protection of the Word of God. Put another way, indeed there must be something in Church Law that guarantees─with coercive and punitive force─the doctrinal soundness of Catholic institutions. Still put another way, in much the same way that the Republic of the Philippines has the opportune departments to establish standards for what are taught in the centers of elementary, intermediate and higher education, the Church must have the necessary means to guarantee that only sound Catholic doctrine is taught in the officially Catholic institutions of education. To illustrate: if a chemistry professor at the University of the Philippines (my department and alma mater respectively) were to insist on teaching his students theories of alchemy that had already been long disproven, and if the university authorities were to allow him to continue deforming his students in that way─with dire consequences in his chemistry practice thereafter─the Republic of the Philippines would have grounds to call the university to task, aside from of course flunking its graduates in the professional board examinations.

In a previous issue of this paper, I summarized a series of articles I had written in this column in previous years regarding the Canonical Protection of the Church’s Magisterium. At this point, and before finally making a canonical appraisal of the question posed by our reader above, allow me to summarize the corresponding rights and duties of the faithful in relation to the Magisterium of the Church.

1. Rights and Duties of the Faithful in relation to the Magisterium
1) Fundamental right to receive an integral catechesis. The Christian faithful, since they are called by baptism to lead a life in conformity with the teaching of the Gospel, have the right to a Christian education by which they will be properly instructed so as to develop the maturity of a human person and at the same time come to know and live the mystery of salvation (c.217). This canon, situated under the title of Obligations and Rights of All Christian Faithful, corresponds to the duty of the Church to evangelize.
2) Right-Duty to do apostolate: Aside from the Magisterium, we must not forget that the whole Church is the carrier of the true meaning of human life; therefore, the whole Church—not just the Hierarchy—has the right and duty to inform the temporal structures with the Gospel message. Nevertheless, This duty of the faithful to do apostolate has no public character—i.e., the apostolate that they are bound to carry out has no public character (personal apostolate), even if they are not barred from carrying out a more public apostolate.
3) Duty to give an assent of faith to Universal Magisterium: All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, i.e., in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, must be believed with divine and catholic faith.... therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths (c.750).
The Code defines two situations contrary to this norm (c.751):
a) Heresy - is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or an obstinate doubt concerning the same.
b) Apostasy - is the total repudiation of the Christian faith. Furthermore, the Code typifies the above situations as crimes, establishing that an apostate or a heretic incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication and if a cleric, he can also be punished by additional expiatory penalties (cf. c.1336, §1, nn.1-3).
4) Duty to give religious respect of intellect and will to Authentic Magisterium. Such religious respect implies, aside from an intellectual assent to the doctrine, also an assent of the will as manifested by an external actuation in accord with it. This is manifested at two levels:
a) Universal Level. A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act. Therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching (c.752).
b) Particular Level. Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a sense of religious respect (c.753).
3) Duty to refrain from dissent in matters of faith and morals: All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and proscribe erroneous opinions; this is especially true of the constitutions and decrees issued by the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops (c.754).
It is senseless to speak of a right to dissent as an expression of a religious freedom within the Church. By definition, this is a freedom that exists only in civil society, and as an eminent canonist has pointed out, what exists in the Church is the “right of opinion and expression (cc.212; 218), a right which is not absolute, but limited and one of the limitations is the magisterium of the Church. A member of the faithful cannot dissent from what makes up the deposit of faith without breaking ecclesiastical communion, since it amounts to ceasing to be a disciple of the Master.”
Thus, even if the Universal Magisterium and the Authentic Magisterium can be differentiated in that an internal act of assent is required in the former while not in the latter, in both cases the faithful is duty-bound to refrain from active (external) dissent.

2. The Loyola House of Studies’ “Talking Points” for a Discussion on the RH Bill

The offending paper is actually too long to tackle in detail, but I would like to focus on what I think is the ethical principle which underpins the entire set of talking points, which to my mind is not in sync with official Catholic teaching as enunciated in the ordinary, authentic and infallible magisterium of the Roman Pontiffs. Quite early on, the paper reads:
“Contraceptives without abortifacient effects are treated differently in church teaching. They are forbidden for Catholics but other religious traditions allow them” (italics mine). It then goes on to make a proposal:
“Proposal: The State first has to make a clear position whether it considers the prevention of implantation of an embryo as an abortion. If the State takes this position, there must be a careful and scientifically based evaluation of each of the medicines and devices provided by the Bill. Those contraceptive medicines and devices which are determined to have abortifacient effects are to be banned even now and regardless of whether the RH Bill is passed or not.”
The implication here is that there is one morality for Catholics and another for people of other religious traditions. This is clearly contrary to the notion of intrinsically evil acts—as taught by John Paul II in Veritatis splendor—and the qualification of contraception as an intrinsically evil act—as taught by Paul VI in Humanae vitae and again by John Paul II in Evangelium vitae.
The proposal to delve into the question of whether or not the prevention of implantation of an embryo is an abortion only serves to muddle the issue and take the discussion away from the more fundamental doctrine: the intrinsic evil of contraception. Put another way, engaging the proponents of the RH Bill in a debate on the abortifaciant or non-abortifaciant character of the contraceptives it proposes to promote is tantamount to conceding that contraception is not the issue but rather abortion. Even from the point of view of rhetoric or debate, that’s a concession that the Church is ill-advised to make, since in fact the proponents of the RH Bill have always affirmed their staunch disapproval of abortion.
This in fact is the problem with some theologians from the aforementioned theological school: through the years, they have repeatedly defended the position that the official Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception—repeatedly enunciated by the popes of the recent past, by Vatican Council II and at present by Pope Benedict XVI—is just one more position, on equal footing with the opposite view of—what a Philippine Star Jesuit columnist calls—an equally responsible Catholic position that contraception is licit in certain situations.
The question now is: Can these theologians, teaching in a Catholic university, where young minds are supposedly being formed in the Catholic faith, maintain such heterodox positions with impunity? Can’t the Law of the Church even protect the youngest of its own faithful against doctrinal error? Or put another way, if the bishops are so concerned about the environmental pollution brought about by irresponsible mining, shouldn’t they be more concerned about the doctrinal pollution being brought about by irresponsible theologizing in Catholic universities? After all, environmental degradation is not as serious as the erosion of Catholic faith, which is at bottom, is the reason for the increasing acceptance of the RH Bill among the Catholic faithful.
This question is masterfully answered in a book by Rev. Jesu Pudumai Doss, SDB, entitled Freedom of Enquiry and Expression in the Catholic Church: A Canonico-Theological Study, published by Kristu Jyoti Publications, Bangalore (India) in 2007. Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation in Canon Law at the Salesian Pontifical University (Rome), the book bears a foreword of Angelo Amato, then Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I shall attempt to summarize the pertinent sections in the next issue of CBCP Monitor. (To be concluded.)

1 comment:

  1. You're position is certainly correct, Father. Except that obviously you did not read the "paper" long enough to realize that, as its title explicitly says, they are "Talking Points" in order to generate meaningful and well-founded discussions among the faithful with regard the broader issue of reproductive health.