Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Church of the Poor and RH Bill: Some thoughts

The RH Bill protects life. It promotes quality life of the poorest of the poor, particularly the women and the children. Thus, I am a pro-RH Bill.

Let me share with you my reflection on the Church and the poor. If the Church is serious about its vision of the Church of the Poor, then its moral reflection on artificial birth control and the use of contraceptives as defined by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae must be viewed from the perspective of the poor women and children deprived from safe and affordable reproductive health care and family life education program for responsible parenthood.

A note to Humanae Vitae
Pope Paul VI, if you recall, rejected the majority report of the papal commission (special commission to study birth control and population by Pope John XXIII) which proposed a radical stand by allowing the use of the contraceptives among Catholic couples. In so doing, Pope Paul VI adopted the minority report and upheld the old teaching prohibiting the use of contraceptives. This act of the Pope was controversial and many theologians around the world criticized the traditional teaching of the Humanae Vitae. For them, the teaching of Humanae Vitae is not infallible and can be changed to address the alarming global social problems like women's reproductive health, AIDS and others.

In fact, Pope Benedict XVI was reported allowing the male prostitutes to use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. I met some priests and religious who distributed condoms to sex workers in the major cities on our country. I also met some devout Catholics who used condom to manage and regulate the number of children as a concrete example of responsible parenthood. Do you think that using a condom to regulate child bearing will make one a detestable sinner?

The Church of the Poor
When I was still a Catholic, I was introduced to doing theological reflection that starts in the life-situation. It begins with the experience of poverty and injustice which provokes theological reflection on the existing Philippine social situation made evident through the method of social analysis. As Filipino Christians, then, we responded in terms of the Christian social vision and mission based on the Bible, Church teachings, and teaching of the theologians and thereafter, defined our concrete pastoral plan of action.

In the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II), the Catholic Church in the Philippines envisioned itself as the Church of the Poor. "No single idea captivated the participants and won their assent as completely as the vision of the Church in the Philippines being the Church of the poor," observes Bishop Bacani. "It was this point," he continues, "which seemed to have received the special grace of the Holy Spirit during the Council." 

PCP-II recognizes its starting point in the life-situation of the poor: "In the Philippines today, God calls us most urgently to serve the poor and the needy. The poverty of at least half of the population is a clear sign that sin has penetrated our social structures. Poverty in the sense of destitution is not God's will for anyone."

In the words of the Jesuit Aloysius Peiris, there is poverty that is imposed on people by an oppressive social system; a systematic impoverishment of the masses which widens the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" -- a social injustice, plain and simple, rejoins Bishop Labayen.

Being a Church of the Poor, according to Bishop Bacani, "is not a strategy of a Church that is losing the poor. It is a sign of renewal and will impact on the vision and mission of the Church because it is deeply rooted in the biblical tradition and in the life of Jesus and the early Church."

The Christendom Church
This prophetic stand of the Catholic Church as becoming the Church of the Poor is a paradigm shift from the Christendom model of the Church (dates back in the 4th CE). The Christendom model of the Church was shaped by its historical circumstances when Constantine became the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire. It was a patronizing relationship, says Bishop Labayen, where the church enjoyed the protection and favors of the empire. The church gradually became more in resemblance with the image of the empire. "Those in authority, like the Pope and the bishops, came to be considered the princes of the church, dressing in imperial robes and sitting on thrones, like emperors, in keeping with their position in the social organization of the church. Their authority was practically unquestioned, sometimes unappealable, very much like that of the emperor." 

The Christendom model has two forms -- the conservative and the progressive. The conservative model delimits the church functions in the ministerial of the sacraments and abstain from the political affair of the empire. The progressive model is critical of the empire, especially when the empire meddled in the church affair. Such a relationship is characterized as critical-collaboration.

By looking at the Christendom model, you will find some answers why the hierarchy in the Church is so passionate in opposing the RH Bill to the point of acting like an absolute monarch imposing strict conformity among its subject. Not because the hierarchy embraced the new way of being Church as the Church of the Poor, but the hierarchy is not yet ready to let go of the privileges of the Christendom model where its voice is the moral authority in the church and society. Bishop Bacani observes, "It is also safe to say that the Council participants did not fully grasp all the radical implication of this name (Church of the Poor) of the Church." 

Let us look deeper into this Christendom model of the Church. The social arrangement of the church is hierarchical, where the Pope at the global church and the bishops at the local churches occupy the top of the pyramid. Below them are the clergy, then the religious and finally the laity. The exercise of authority is from the top-down through the different layers of the pyramid. Communication is also filtered in both ways-- from top down and bottom up. As a result, there is little participation from the lay people in the life and mission of the Church. 

In the Christendom model the concentration of power (authority) is in the hands of the hierarchy. When lay people in the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) assert their leadership role, some of the clergy are not ready to share their power to the lay leaders. They are threatened by this democratization of power in the base of the Church pyramid. 
It is good to look at the issue of RH Bill in terms of (1) the use of power by the hierarchy viz ethic of participation; and (2) the moral principles used by the Church in condemning the artificial contraception viz Christian sexual morality from the perspective of the poor.


[Note: This article was a response in the - Disqus thread. jsalvador]

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