Move on, bishops urge critics of RH law

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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CBCP president Socrates Villegas says, 'We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH brethren on this divisive issue, but we can work hand in hand for the good of the country'

'BE LOVING.' Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, says RH advocates and critics should be 'friends.' File photo by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged critics of the reproductive health (RH) law on Tuesday, April 8, to “move on” after the Supreme Court (SC) upheld this “unjust” measure.

The CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said Catholics should stop being an “RH-law-reactionary group.” The Church should have a “positive message,” he added, even as Catholic hardliners called for civil disobedience.

Villegas explained the SC ruling on Tuesday, anyway, “has truly watered down” the RH law.

“I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided on the RH issue based on existing laws in the Philippines,” Villegas said in a statement.

He issued this message after the SC on Tuesday declared the RH law “not unconstitutional,” but struck down 8 of its provisions partially or in full. The ruling came after the Catholic Church blocked the RH law for about a decade and a half. (Watch more in the video below.) 

‘Work hand-in-hand’

Villegas said the Catholic Church, in any case, “must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person, and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death.”

“Although the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the RH law, it has truly watered down the RH law and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers. It has also stood on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children,” he said.

“We cannot see eye-to-eye with our pro-RH brethren on this divisive issue, but we can work hand in hand for the good of the country,” he added.

“On the part of the Church,” Villegas explained, “we must continue to teach what is right and moral. We will continue to proclaim the beauty and holiness of every human person. Through 2,000 years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars, and revolutions. The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws.

“Let us move on from being an RH-law-reactionary-group to (being) truly Spirit-empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love. We have a positive message to proclaim,” the Philippines’ top Catholic prelate said.

Tatad: Civil disobedience

Taking his cue from Pope Francis, Villegas had a similar message in January, when he told Catholics to “be loving” while they protest the RH law.

He said the Catholic Church’s position on the RH law “has not changed, but the reaching out is added to it.”

Despite Villegas’ call for sobriety, one of the law’s hardline opponents and a petitioner to the court, former senator Francisco Tatad, said allowing the law to take effect could force Catholics into an open revolt.

“This means civil disobedience at the very least, actual revolt at the most extreme,” Tatad wrote in a commentary in the Manila Times newspaper on Tuesday.

“Some of us will want to defy the power of the devil and die as martyrs, if need be, in the only cause that gives us a chance to fight for something much bigger than ourselves,” he said.

Pope: Focus on essentials

Blowing the RH law out of proportion as many hardliners do, however, contradicts the Pope’s own disposition.

The first Jesuit pontiff said in an interview in August 2013: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.”

“The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” 

Francis added: “Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.

“The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant,” he said.  – with reports from Agence France-Presse/

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email