Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Excommunicate Me!

Posted by butalidnl on 5 October 2010

Excommunicate Me! This is now displayed on T-shirts in Manila; as a protest against the threat of the CBCP to excommunicate President Aquino on the issue of contraceptives.

CBCP did threaten Aquino with excommunication
Bishop Odchimar, head of the CBCP, may deny that he directly threatened Aquino with excommunication; but if we read the transcript of that interview, it is clear that he was waving the flag of excommunication as a possible result of the government policy of promoting contraceptive use. His threat was  indirect; what some would call a “trial balloon”, which is meant to be a threat without being explicitly threatening.  Such trial balloons are deviously formulated for their “deniability”; but I think that it is clear that Odchimar did intend to intimidate and threaten Aquino.

Over contraceptives?
The issue that holds the possibility of excommunication is: contraceptives. What? Is the Catholic Church going crazy? Family planning, including the use of artificial contraceptives is promoted by governments in very many other countries. And the Catholic Church in those countries don’t seem to have a problem with it. So, why the Philippines? Perhaps our present-day Father Damaso’s haven’t realized that we are now in the 21st century; apparently they’re still living in the 19th century (as in 1800s).

Isn’t it strange that the church is considering excommunication for something like contraceptive use, when they aren’t doing much to stem the sexual misbehavior of so many of their priests – priests in the Philippines (and in many other countries also) have elicit affairs (girlfriends, and yes boyfriends) or act as pedophiles. So, why isn’t the church threatening to excommunicate them? Why excommunicate hard-working couples whose only “sin” is that they use the pill or other contraceptives, so that they could properly plan their family size?  It is indeed strange, super-strange, that the Philippine Catholic church would stoop so low in threatening excommunication over contraceptive use.

Even historically, in the Philippine context, it is still strange. Why didn’t they excommunicate Ferdinand Marcos when his government promoted the use of condoms and pills. When I was married (during the Marcos years), I remember having a seminar on family planning and birth control given by a government health professional. So, why the strange turnaround now?

I think the only decent thing for the government to do is to stay its course. They should continue with the policy of sex education, and of distributing contraceptives to poor couples. If the church has a problem with it; then so be it. If the church says that some contraceptives are abortifacient; well, let them name which contraceptives those are, and let us see if they are right. Otherwise, contraceptives in general should be deemed good, and not abortifacient.

Contraceptives are intended to prevent conception, so almost by definition, they are not abortifacient. Their use actually lessens the possibility of abortion; since, if no baby is conceived, there is none to abort.  Thus, the church is advocating the opposite of what they want. If they want to lessen abortions, they should promote the use of contraceptives.

The church promotes the use of “natural” methods of contraception, such as the rhythm method. Well, this method works well for women with regular periods, and who are stay-at-home wives. Working women and those with irregular periods have a less stable body temperature, and the rhythm method will not work well. And they will end up pregnant when the method fails. And that is why the pill and condoms are used by many couples. Prohibiting people from using these will surely mean many unwanted pregnancies.

Excommunication?
Excommunication, or one’s  expulsion of one from the Catholic church has been a weapon at the hands of the friars in centuries past. In the 1800’s and earlier, when it was used or threatened, this meant that one is not only expelled from the church, but also from society in general. And this is would indeed be a heavy punishment.

But nowadays, where we have all kinds of Christian denominations, excommunication has a lot less weight. Expulsion from the Catholic church would mean that one could simply join another Christian church, or even opt to be a “generic” christian – i.e. a Christian in beliefs, but not attached to any church in particular.  One could still go to public schools, get married by the judge, find work, get buried at memorial parks. Excommunication no longer means being rejected by society.

So, in facing the Catholic hierarchy on the issue of contraceptives, I would not want to leave PNoy alone to face excommunication.  Let the church excommunicate me also, for supporting PNoy on the issue of contraceptives. Let the church also excommunicate thousands, or millions, of Filipinos who also think this way. And let us see who will then be rejected by society: the ones excommunicated, or the church itself.

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