Amid the raging debate on artificial methods of birth control, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales’s advice to all married couples is to exercise more “self-discipline” and “self-control” in bed.
In his message to the Catholic flock at Friday’s prayer rally marking the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical on the Regulation of Birth or Humanae Vitae, Rosales said the lack of discipline in the marital bed rebounds on other aspects of life.
Because life should be valued and its creation is a serious matter, “there should be discipline and self-control” between couples, the prelate said in Filipino.
Couples who have the discipline to practice the Church-sanctioned natural family planning methods are “in possession of true values of life” and tend to pass it on to their children. They also tend to be good citizens, he said.
“If there is discipline in the marital bed, then there is discipline in the streets, there is discipline in schools, there is discipline in the government,” he added.
The Catholic community held a massive gathering at the University of Santo Tomas parade grounds on Friday to reaffirm their commitment to Humanae Vitae, which prohibits artificial contraceptives on grounds that they deliberately impeded life, and to denounce a proposal in the House of Representatives to create a national reproductive health policy.
The Catholic Church approves only of natural family planning methods, which entail close observation of a woman's temperature and discharges, to determine her fertile days. Couples who practice natural contraception methods avoid having sex when the woman is fertile.
In his message, the Manila archbishop said the Catholic Church will fight for the “defenseless” fetus.
According to Rosales, anyone who halts the life of an unborn child can be likened to Herod, the king who ordered the massacre of infants after Christ was born.
“Wherever this happens, in the clinics, health centers, or hospitals, ending the life of a child inside a mother’s womb is a repeat of Herod’s massacre of the innocents… and a Herod could be your neighbor,” he said.
Meanwhile, in opposition to the Catholic Church’s hard-line stance against contraceptives, an evangelical group on Saturday said it supported artificial birth control methods because of the “alarming growth of our population.”
While the Bible tells mankind to multiply, it also has specific instructions for humanity to care and protect all of creation, the board of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) said in a statement.
“About 5,800 babies are born daily.… One doesn’t have to be an economist to tally how much more food, water, shelter, medicine, and other resources will be needed for their support. At the [present] growth rate, there will be 100 million Filipinos by 2013,” the group said.
To ignore this problem is a “totally irresponsible” decision, the group said, given the high cost of living in the country.
“The present uncontrolled population growth over these many years has undeniably contributed to, and accelerated the poor getting poorer, and has led to thousands of abortions, unnecessary maternal deaths, thousands of abandoned children, increase of street dwellers, among other ills of society,” the PCEC said.
The PCEC position on population is the exact opposite of the Catholic Church’s stance.
According to Church officials, the idea of a burgeoning population is a myth used to scare the public into supporting artificial contraceptives.
PCEC stressed that it does not support abortion, a crime in the Philippines, because it is tantamount to murder and against the teachings of the Bible.
However, PCEC said it supports various birth control methods to prevent conception. Such action, the group said, is not a sin, because no life is harmed or created yet.
“Unborn babies, at whatever stage of pregnancy should be preserved and protected. Termination of this life is sinful and offensive to God,” PCEC said.
“But preventing pregnancy or conception is not abortion for no life has yet been conceived and there is nothing to be terminated,” it stressed.
As such, the PCEC said they support policies that “will help control the population growth.”
Instead of banning artificial, non-abortive birth control methods from public health centers, the PCEC said couples should be given comprehensive instructions on them, along with information on natural family methods.
PCEC said couples should be given a wide array of birth control methods and the right to decide what is best for them.
In some respects these two positions, the one taken by Cardinal Rosales, and the other taken by PCEC, represent the problem with the birth control debate. Cardinal Rosales sees the use of birth control as giving unfettered license to sexual immorality of all kinds, and PCEC present the case as strictly an issue of population control. One position stresses self discipline and the other stresses reproductive choice. The problem with both positions is that unitive love is left out, ignored, or given lip service.
The truth is most couples marry because they love each other, want to be with each other, and that means desire to express their love sexually. That desire is enhanced by spontaneity and spontaneity keeps relationships fresh and creative. Spontaneity is not necessarily synonymous with lack of discipline or mere lust. It very often results from a need to just express the love that one feels for one's partner at any God given moment. Natural Family Planning is not conducive to that kind of expression. It's use places avoiding conception as first and foremost in the lives of the couple and places most of the onus on the woman. I admire couples who can work around this, but those couples represent a relational understanding which is not shared by many.
On the other hand, the attitude of CPEC and other groups is way too often couched in terms which really do come across as anti child and coercive. Most couples I know who use artificial birth control are not anti child. They have very serious concerns about when and how many children they can bring into the marriage and give those children a decent quality of life. This is not a selfish attitude, it's a responsible attitude which cherishes children.
In many respects the 'war' over contraception now being waged in the Philippines is the perfect symbol of just how far the debate about birth control has come since Paul VI gave us his encyclical Humanae Vitae. It's gone no where. Some of the rhetoric defending the 'prophetic' qualities of this encyclical have left me befuddled. I've read a number of analysis which place every social ill at the feet of contraception. Even articles which admit most of these social ills were well on their way long before Paul VI became a prophet. Divorce, unwed mothers, poverty, children living off the streets, all of these were rising precipitously before 1968, but somehow, the use of artificial birth control caused all of them. Personally I think blaming the availability of birth control is a convenient excuse to ignore the fact that some of the real reasons for these increases are poverty with all it's attendant ills, and the drastic changes with in society which have served to break family ties.
People can't afford to live in family enclaves anymore. They are forced to move where the jobs are, and this places a huge amount of extra pressure on the nuclear unit. The kinds of pressures which in the past had been spread out amongst family generations. Men who had never been raised with any expectations of actually doing the day to day chores of parenting were now forced to adjust to a role for which they were not prepared. In many of their minds, they became an interactive parent when the child was old enough to throw a baseball, before then it was mommy's job. Unfortunately, too many mommys had to work just to see to it that the nuclear family had the economic resources to support itself. She too had to take on responsibilities which were not part of her gender upbringing, especially if the couple had any hope to maintain the economic status they were born into. It wasn't birth control which forced the advent of the working mother, it was economics. It's not surprising that the divorce rate skyrocketed because most couples were facing a reality that their parents had never faced.
While the Church extols the sanctity of Humanae Vitae, couples in the West are navigating a totally different path. The age for marriage keeps increasing as young adults grapple with the concepts of marriage and family and how to economically put in place a framework which can sustain the change. I see this worry surfacing again and again. Young adults will tell me they really love their partner, but have early memories of the struggles in their own young lives of missing their parents, and the constant arguing over how make the monthly bills between them. Even the most wanted children feel like a burden when their day to day experience tells them that mom and dad are having a hard time handling their existence.
I've written previously that the most widely used form of birth control in the Phillipines is abortion. Women don't abort for grins and giggles. They abort when they know they can not withstand another child. That to carry another pregnancy through to full term will have a major impact on their existing children. For Cardinal Rosales to tout the benefits of self discipline over looks the fact that in machismo cultures males are not required to practice self discipline and women are raised to accept that as their lot in life. To say no becomes an invitation to marital rape.
I don't think it's any accident that the most telling statistic about population reduction is not from birth control, but from the education of women. The higher the education in the female, the lower the birth rate. Educating women empowers them far more than providing birth control. I wish both sides would stop the debating and deal with this one simple fact. Over population is not about lack of reproductive choice, it's alout lack of education in women. Ultimately it's about placing a higher value on males than females. In this respect the Church is every bit as much behind the eight ball as China and India, whose experiences with sex selective abortion is going to bite them in the ass big time.
The Catholic Church in the Phillipines would do well to ponder on these facts. If they truly want to end the staggering abortion statistics among their flock they should stop talking about self discipline and start spending some money on the education of their women. On the other hand, educating women brings the risk of empowering them to question the assumptions behind patriarchy and the machismo culture. So which is more important, patriarchy or the rights of the unborn innocent? Who is really supporting the culture which creates the Herods Cardinal Rosales rants about?