This was my column yesterday, September 1.
In the last many weeks, going to mass has been a somewhat distressing experience for me and my family.
This has been because the priests at the church where my family and I go to on Sundays and who are rabidly against the reproductive health bill that’s being deliberated on in Congress have always found ways to insert their often irrational and illogical arguments against the bill into the Sunday homily. Regardless of the scripture that’s supposed to be the theme for the homily, the priests have made it their mandate to skirt the discourse so that they eventually get to talk about how the reproductive bill health is supposedly the worst curse to befall this country.
We’ve tried changing our regular mass schedule in the vain hope that the other priests would not be as vociferous in the advocacy as to hijack the Sunday service into another tirade against the supposed evil machinations of Rep. Edcel Lagman and the other supporters of the bill, but no cigar. It seems all the priests of this particular church that we go to, and that of the other churches in our area, are on a mad mission to not let up on their opposition to the bill.
I found the advocacy initially amusing. This church that we go to is inside a village in Makati.
The parishioners are predominantly middle class and educated—obviously people who practice family planning. The faithful who attend mass on any given Sunday are mostly families composed of couples in their forties or fifties with two, three, or at most four children in tow.
There is no way that these families would have been able to limit their offspring to within a sizable number and within an ideal interval without the benefit of artificial contraception.
It is possible of course that some couples have conveniently had a change of heart now that they are past the age of procreation and have taken to imposing the Church’s archaic stand against contraception on younger couples. This kind of hypocrisy is, after all, modeled by the priests and nuns who preach from proverbial ivory towers.
But the advocacy has clearly been taken to new heights. The harangue has not been limited anymore to homilies; even the manangs who serve as mass commentators have joined in the melee and have taken to reading scripts that amplify the Church’s opposition to the bill. They now read as part of the announcements prior to the final blessing yet another admonition to the faithful not to support the bill and reminders for all to pray that the bill does not get passed into law. Attending Sunday mass has become an occasion for endless ear-beating.
And last Sunday, they’ve started to put tables strategically outside the doors of the church where copies of a petition were laid out for parishioners to sign. The petition was addressed to our lawmakers pressuring them not to vote for the bill. It was difficult to ignore the tables and the manangs in their Catholic Women’s League uniforms who stood guard around these tables and accosted parishioners on their way out after Sunday mass to sign the petition.
Of course my family and I didn’t sign the petition despite the entreaties of the priests and the manangs. But not everyone could say no; and I understand why many were looped into eventually signing the petition. When one has just received communion, it seems rather blasphemous not to. When one is in a supposedly peaceful disposition after receiving Sunday blessings, arguing with religious leaders and right at the doorsteps of the place of worship, is farthest from one’s mind.
And that is how the Church is conducting the campaign to oppose the reproductive health bill and to raise signatures against it. First by deliberately misleading the faithful by obfuscating the issues, spreading false information about the provisions of the bill, and by conjuring all kinds of evil scenarios that would befall this country if the bill is allowed to become a law; and then by applying all kinds of psychological suasion to get people to sign up.
I don’t begrudge the Church its right to oppose the bill even if I also believe in the separation of the Church and the state. The way I see it, the Church has the right to speak up on vital national issues and register its opposition against anything it deems immoral or wrong. The Church performs the role of vanguard of ethics, morality, and righteousness and it should be given ample leverage in advocacies around these areas. I believe in diversity and respect opinions even if they are contrary to mine.
I just wish that the Church would listen as much as it condemns. I wish that the Church would walk the talk when it preaches honesty, sincerity, ethics, respect for the opinions of other people, and all the other lofty things that it claims to espouse.
Sunday mass is hardly the time and place to go into hateful discourse; it certainly is incongruous to witness a religious service being waylaid into a tirade. People attend Sunday mass for intensely personal spiritual reasons. The last thing that people want and should be subjected to is to be held hostage and be made to suffer in silence while the priest spews a litany of falsehoods about how the bill promotes abortion, allows sex education to be taught in kindergarten, opens the gates to legalizing divorce, etc., etc. The attempt to link the reproductive health to divorce is an exercise that requires major logical acrobatics. It’s insane. But I don’t think the Church is interested in, and cares about being logical or being truthful anyway.
I feel spiritually “violated” when priests use the pulpit to denounce people like me and call me names. Of course I feel alluded to when priests rant against “legislators, media people, and liberal advocates who are colluding against God.” I am staunchly for the passage of the reproductive health bill. And I don’t see any conflict between my advocacy and my being a Catholic. It’s certainly un-Christian to judge my faith and my person on the basis of my support for the bill.
As if the falsehoods that the Church is spreading about the reproductive health bill has not been enough, here now comes yet another attack from the ranks of the bishops, this time against the use of condoms on HIV/AIDS prevention. Pangasinan Archbishop Paciano Aniceto has issued a statement calling the use of condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention “dangerous and ineffective.” He asserted that condoms are not 100 percent effective, but as usual, he conveniently left out that part about how correct usage of a condom is the key to successful prevention.
The good bishop is correct though in saying that the most effective way to prevent the spread of HIV is behavior change. Unfortunately, the concept of behavior change that he is promoting is limited and therefore excludes those who are most vulnerable for HIV transmission—it stops at abstinence and being faithful to one’s spouse. As usual, the Church remains oblivious to reality.