Two startling remarks by the Pope spur debates

Two startling pronouncements recently made by Pope Benedict XVI  have spurred doctrinal debates in the Christian world particularly in the Philippines where about 85 percent of the population are Catholics.

His interesting statements are contained in a book yet to be released this week. In substance, he said –
1)     In his opinion condom may be allowed to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS.
2)     That he would not hesitate to become the first Pontiff to resign willingly in 700 years if he felt himself no longer able, “physically and spiritually,” to lead the Church.

The book, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times,” an interview with German Catholic journalist Peter Seewald, also reportedly contains many reflection on the 83-year-old Pope’s health, his daily life and his future.

The Pope’s personal opinion that the use of condoms to stop spread of AIDS maybe allowed made headlines around the world and have occupied much of the space and air time of Philippine multi-media.

Pro-reproductive Health Bill campaigners have grabbed the opportunity to use the pronouncement of the Pope on condom issue to bolster their stand for its passage to curb population growth.

Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang urged the Catholic Church to show flexibility in the face of Pope Benedict’s personal opinion on condom use, adding that bishops in the Philippines “cannot be more popish than the Pope.”

As RH bill advocates were jumping for joy, Vatican officials threw cold water on their revelries by insisting that there was nothing “revolutionary” in Pope’s remarks. They said the Vatican’s ban on contraception remains, emphasizing that the Pope’s comment neither “reforms nor changes” Catholic teaching.

On the matter of Pope’s resignation remarks, recall that the last Pope to resign willingly was Celestine V in 1294 after reigning for only five months. Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 to end a dispute with a rival claimant to the Holy See.


The expression of support by an official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to a plebiscite to determine if the people are in favour of the use of contraceptives for population management is a welcome development.

This proposed political exercise will definitely enliven the current debates on the Reproductive Health
(RH) bill now pending approval by Congress.

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Rebillo, chairman of CBCP National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) said a plebiscite on RH bill would reveal the number of Filipinos who support the Catholic Church’s stand against the passage of the proposed law.

It is easy to understand the Catholic Church’s strong opposition against RH bill because of its fear that it would promote the use of artificial contraceptives and abortifacient drugs which are against the teaching of the Church.

An intensive and extensive information campaign on the pros and cons of the bill is in order under the auspices of the government which has to spend for the plebiscite.

Bishop Rebillo was reacting to Rep. Jose Ma. Zubiri’s remarks earlier that Congress could resort to a plebiscite if it fails to pass the controversial legislative measure. Zubiri is a co-author of the RH bill in Congress.

In its explanatory note, the bill is described as “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population and Development,”

While the Catholic Church insists that the RH bill could lead to pro legal abortion, its proponents assure the people that the measure does not promote abortion.

Another controversial provision of the RH bill is population control as a government  policy through the use of artificial contraceptives, and advocates the education of student on reproductive health at the appropriate time.

It is being opposed by the Catholic Church, which prohibits the use of artificial means of family planning such as birth control pills and condom, and only agreeable to natural means such as abstinence and the use fertility beads, among others.

The author of the bill said population pressures can also “increase environment degradation and may push more people into areas more prone to natural disaster.”

A US-based population and health expert Dr. Malcolm Potts warned recently the Philippines could be as impoverished as Somalia because of its ballooning population.

“160 million people in 40 years time are very, very frightening,” he said “unless the RH bill goes through and unless you are able to offer the poorest economic quintile the choices that they deserve, then, people will be poorer. You will be more like Somalia than Thailand.” Potts said.

Opponents of RH bill, however, have maintained that “corruption, lack of education, and lack of opportunity cause poverty. The poor are victims of poverty, not the cause of poverty…”

Former Senator Francisco Tatad expressed wonder why almost every week foreigners who introduced themselves as health and population experts come to Manila to see to it that the RH bill will push through, implying that lobby money changed hands for the proposed legislation. Cornelio de Guzman

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