Joined up thinking for the Irish Left
Irish Living Standards Fall Further Behind Europe Wed Jul 01, 2015 15:52 | Michael Taft
Free Education: A Really Modest Proposal Fri Jun 26, 2015 13:04 | Michael Taft
The June Issue of Socialist Voice is Out Now! Thu Jun 25, 2015 14:01 | Communist Party of Ireland
Latest Peoples News No. 127 is Out Now Thu Jun 25, 2015 12:27 | The People's Movement
Syriza?s Moment of Truth Tue Jun 23, 2015 14:17 | Brian O Boyle
Irish Left Review >>
Trotsky and TTIP: how secret diplomacy serves elite interests Tue Jun 09, 2015 16:02 | yeksmesh
Some Various Tidbits on #GE2015 Fri May 08, 2015 01:49 | Jerome Nikolai Warren
Americaâ€™s Palestinians: Lessons from The American Indian Experience for Israel... Sun Mar 29, 2015 20:00 | Jerome Nikolai Warren
Spain is not Greece, or is it? Electoral prospects for the left in 2015. Thu Feb 05, 2015 19:00 | modulus
SYRIZA and Memnosyne Sat Jan 24, 2015 09:09 | CornetJoyce
Spirit of Contradiction >>
Life should be full of strangeness, like a rich painting
THE WRATH OF KANE: BANKING CRISES AND POLITICAL POWER 09:32 Fri Jan 30, 2015
ALWAYS THE ARTISTS: WEEK THREE OF THE BANK INQUIRY 23:11 Thu Jan 22, 2015
FIANNA FÁIL AND THE BANK INQUIRY : SOME INITIAL OBSERVATIONS 21:04 Mon Jan 12, 2015
PETER NYBERG BANK INQUIRY EVIDENCE, 17 DECEMBER 2014 18:05 Sun Dec 28, 2014
For Some Vicious Mole of Nature: Making Sense of The Irish Bank Crisis 21:07 Fri Dec 26, 2014
Dublin Opinion >>
Farewell from NWL Sun May 19, 2013 14:00 | namawinelake
Happy 70th Birthday, Michael Sun May 19, 2013 14:00 | namawinelake
Of the Week? Sat May 18, 2013 00:02 | namawinelake
Noonan denies IBRC legal fees loan approval to Paddy McKillen was in breach of E... Fri May 17, 2013 14:23 | namawinelake
Gayle Killilea Dunne asks to be added as notice party in Sean Dunne?s bankruptcy Fri May 17, 2013 12:30 | namawinelake
NAMA Wine Lake >>
Philippines: Clerical Extremists, Timid Liberals, and the RH Debate
gender and sexuality |
Monday April 14, 2014 11:03 by Akbayan (Citizens Action Party)
On the Supreme Court decision declaring the Reproductive Health Law constitutional
The bishops should have realized it was only a matter of time. The surveys were unanimous in chronicling a steady rise in the majority supporting family planning and government support for it. More and more from all classes had come to accept that family size had a direct bearing on poverty and that medical science provided them with the means to do something about it, if they had financial assistance. And the spread of plural sources of belief and ethics that came with secularization was eroding the Church’s claim to a monopoly on morality.
The Church hierarchy should have taken notice of the lessons of Spain, Ireland, and other parts of Europe, where hard-line resistance to contraception, divorce, and gay rights, coupled with clerical child abuse resulted in a crushing loss of credibility and influence, a trend that the Economist characterized as “the near-collapse of Catholicism in some of its heartlands.”
Staking Everything on the RH Fight
Instead, the bishops chose to make a do-or-die stand on contraception and family planning. The conservatives in the hierarchy made a virtue of what others saw as a sign of backwardness: that the country was one of the few remaining countries in Asia with no comprehensive government-supported family planning program. The same attitude of drawing perverse pride from what others saw as reactionary was exhibited in the case of divorce, where they proclaimed to one and all our being blessed as the only country in the world not to allow divorce.
Caught up in their shrill rhetoric, the bishops did not notice the movement of opinion among the silent majority of Catholics and the spread, among the middle class, of resentment of their political influence in what was supposed to be a secular state.
In the early years of the Congressional debate on family planning in the late 1990’s, the bishops deployed the argument that artificial contraception was immoral because the only purpose of sex was to have children. This had, however, limited appeal, so they enlisted another argument, this one from the extreme left: that family planning was a tool promoted by the United States to keep third world populations down. Thus we had the incongruous spectacle of upper-class religious conservatives parading as anti-imperialists on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Outmaneuvered by the Women’s Movement
For a couple of years, armed with this bastard ideological formula of “anti-imperialism” and anti-contraception, the alliance between the bishops, religious conservatives in the House, and Malacanang blocked any movement on the legislative front, even as the rest of the country moved forward. What broke the political stalemate was the women’s movement, which, in the 2000s, reframed the issue as one of women’s reproductive rights and health. Women had the right to space their children and determine how many children they had. Women had the right to protect their family’s quality of life by limiting their offspring. Women had the right to family planning to preserve their health. It was a winning argument, one that was deployed with skill not only at the rational level but symbolically, through the strategic dissemination of the image of an all-male hierarchy and a predominantly male Congress controlling women’s choices.
By the 15th Congress, the hierarchy and its allies in Congress were bereft of viable arguments and forced into pushing two related arguments that came across to the general public as outrageous or silly: that condoms and other contraceptives were “abortifacients,” and that there was no conceptual or real difference between contraception and abortion. As one congressman from Manila put it, memorably, during the floor debates, “Contraception is abortion.” By this time, the hierarchy’s Woman in the Palace was gone, and with the new president declaring passage of the RH bill a priority, the Church defeat was sealed, though the bishops chose to go down fighting during the Senate and House plenary debates in 2012 and 2013.
The Silence of the Liberals
The liberals within the Church hierarchy probably saw the handwriting on the wall. They probably knew that although the measure might be defeated in the 15th Congress, the changing balance of forces at work in the nation would mean that the pro-RH side could only steadily gain in strength and eventually win. Yet they acquiesced in the conservatives’ strategy of making the anti-RH struggle an apocalyptic battle into which the Church would throw in all its resources, much like Hitler did against the Soviet Union in Stalingrad in 1942.
The liberals could have preached moderation to their colleagues. They and the more liberal religious orders could have been more vocal in rationally discussing, if not conditionally favoring the bill, instead of leaving Fr. Joaquin Bernas as the solitary Catholic cleric doing this in public. They could have adopted a strategy of symbolic, as opposed to active, political opposition, quietly acquiescing in the passage of RH as part of a broader program of theological reform that would have brought Catholic doctrine up to speed on a whole range of ethical issues. Yet they chose to stay quiet and allowed the extremists to call the shots.
During the long RH debate, in fact, we had the interesting spectacle of priests and nuns who would come up to proponents of the bill to whisper their support for it and apologize for not being able to publicly declare this. Moral cowardice is maybe too strong a word for this behavior, but it certainly was, to borrow from Kierkegaard, a case of “fear and trembling.”
A Setback Turns into a Rout
When RH became law, there was still a chance for the liberals to stem the erosion of Church credibility, by cautioning their colleagues from supporting the efforts of some die-hard lay people to get the Supreme Court to rule the law unconstitutional. But again, they deferred to the firebrands, who entertained the illusion that the appointees of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would compromise the integrity of the court by backing their incredible proposition that contraception was abortion and was therefore unconstitutional. This misreading turned what was a serious setback into a rout.
With the decision to wager all on the RH battle, the Church hierarchy’s credibility has been mortally wounded, enabling the easier passage of divorce and other laws that will finally, finally, make the Philippines a normal secular nation-state. A reformed, liberal Roman Catholic Church that had come to terms with secular realities and enjoying renewed respect form society was at one point in time a possibility. It is much less likely now owing to pig-headed extremism among the dominant forces in the hierarchy coupled with timidity on the part of Church liberals. A more likely outcome is what the Economist describes as the Catholic condition in Europe: a “church…losing whatever remains of its grip on society at an accelerating pace.”