The right to dissent

That Cebu archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal would presume to tell his flock not to vote for Senator Noynoy Aquino or other politicians who support the reproductive health (RH) bill, and that Father Melvin Castro of the Commission of Family and Life would propose bloc voting against allegedly anti-life candidates, are not merely disturbing developments for Roman Catholics such as myself. These are also contradictory to what canonists and theologians have commonly held: that it is licit and moral for a member of the Church, whether of the clergy or the laity, to disagree with an official teaching should the teaching run counter to his or her tested objective reasoning. If, after thorough study and reflection, a Catholic cannot hew to the teaching with a clear and honest conscience, then he or she can—and should—dissent without fear of being hypocritical or disloyal to the Church.

While the Church may be against all forms of artificial contraception as set forth in Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, the encyclical is by no means infallible. Papal infallibility has to do exclusively with teachings on divine revelation—that is, what Jesus Christ taught his followers to believe and to do. It does not extend to the realms of natural science and human wisdom, as even the most rapid survey of Church history would indicate: past popes have authorized the torture of alleged heretics (Innocent IV), upheld the Ptolemaic theory of geocentrism (Urban VIII), condemned freedom of religion and the separation of church and state (Pius IX), and claimed that the proper place of a woman is the home (Pius XI). The Code of Canon Law itself proclaims, “No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.”

In view of the foregoing, it is only the position of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo that can be said to be correct: “The Church is not in favor of bloc voting like what others do because our citizens should have the freedom to choose their candidates according to their conscience.” In the matters of the RH bill and of the elections, the Church cannot impose its will upon its followers. Rather, the task before it is to ensure that each Catholic is sufficiently informed about the issues at stake in order for him or her to make the best possible decision, according to his or her conscience. That its leaders would prefer to take the path of least resistance by engaging in sweeping, uncritical condemnation and baseless paranoia-mongering—not to mention singling out Aquino, which {caffeine_sparks} has rightfully deplored—constitute a dereliction of moral duty.

Precisely because the final hurdle for any Catholic is his or her individual conscience, it furthermore behooves the Church to be fully transparent about its own official stance and the circumstances that gave rise to it, instead of simpl(isticall)y arguing against the RH bill. And yet where is the cleric who will say that, prior to the issuance of Humanae Vitae, a majority of the papal birth control commission actually supported contraception? That, upon issuance, the encyclical was widely unpopular, sparking the publication of a dissenting statement signed by over 600 U.S. theologians, and the release of the Winnipeg Statement by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops? That the encyclical fails to cite or contemplate the thoughts of Paul on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, or similarly relevant assertions by the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes? That, specific considerations of Humanae Vitae aside, the clergy is thoroughly ignorant about the realities of married life, and therefore should temper its judgments in that area with prudence, compassion, and, most importantly, modesty? As the National Catholic Reporter pointed out in 1997:

The Vatican’s unmarried males who are the final-word authorities on sexual activity not only have a lopsided view of the subject; they have no experience of an intimacy that is wholesome, bonding, forgiving, sharing, romantic, mutual. There is no sign of joy. A batch of married Vatican officials would indeed be surprised by joy. They would soon discover what normal Catholic couples discover: that sexual activity is one essential component of the lasting joy that marriage brings.

This is not to say that the Church should be neutral or silent on the RH bill. It obviously has a responsibility to educate Catholics on its official stand. It ought to recognize, however, that it cannot and should not deprive the faithful of their responsibility to and for themselves and their families—that it cannot and should not deprive the faithful of the right to dissent when their consciences so dictate.

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2 thoughts on “The right to dissent

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for The right to dissent « Random Salt [randomsalt.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: A matter of conscience « Random Salt

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