Confirmed: Pope ‘much updated’ on RH law

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Confirmed: Pope ‘much updated’ on RH law
Pope Francis had the Reproductive Health law in mind when he spoke about Filipino families, the CBCP head tells Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis factored in the Reproductive Health (RH) law, which funds artificial contraceptives, when he slammed the “ideological colonization” of families during his trip to the Philippines.

In fact, Francis was “certainly” updated on the Church-opposed law even before he stayed in the Philippines from January 15 to 19, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed to Rappler on Friday, January 30.

“He knew the position of the bishops. He knew that it has been approved and passed into law. He also knew about the Supreme Court decision. He is very much updated,” CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said.

The RH law is the latest contentious issue between the Philippine government and the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Catholic bishops oppose it in favor of natural family planning.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III signed the RH law on December 21, 2012, despite years-long protests by the Catholic Church.

The law’s critics appealed it before the Philippine Supreme Court (SC), but the SC upheld the law on April 8, 2014.

The Pope knew all these because, Villegas explained, officials of the CBCP “send regular updates” to Francis. The apostolic nuncio, or the Vatican’s ambassador to the Philippines, also updates the pontiff.

(Watch part of Villegas’ interview with Rappler below)

Why Pope hailed big families

Did the Pope’s knowledge of the RH law play a role in his speech at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, where he denounced “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy” the family? (FULL TEXT: Pope Francis’ speech, Meeting with Families)

Villegas answered: “Yes, and if you remember, right on his arrival at the Vatican, he praised the Filipino people for the numerous number of children. He was asked, ‘What is it do you remember most about the Philippines?’ And he said, ‘Happy children, big families. They are poor but they can smile when they’re happy, because there is something within them, it is God in them that makes them happy.’” 

The Pope hailed big families at his weekly general audience on January 21, two days after he left the Philippines. 

In this general audience, Francis sought to debunk arguments that directly blame poverty on “numerous families.” 

When asked if the Pope’s statement is “directly connected” to the RH law, Villegas said: “Yes, because…the Reproductive Health law presents itself as a law for reproductive health. But the drafters themselves refer to it as a population program. It has been called by many names. But…even the President says that the growing population of the Philippines can be a problem, that is why they have to attend to it, and pass this law.” 

In his interview with Rappler, Villegas also explained that the Pope’s statement on “ideological colonization” comes from the experience of developing countries like the Philippines. 

These developing countries, he said, experience “pressure” from international donors, who give them financial aid and say, “We are giving you this. Can you please make sure you do this?”

“And some of our brothers, bishops from Africa, have openly said, ‘You can keep your money, and we will keep our culture of preserving family and life.’” 

He added that the Pope is “very sensitive to the situation of Africa and Asia,” where millions remain poor. 

Villegas’ statements confirm the observation made by veteran Vatican analyst John Allen Jr, among others, that the Pope’s speech on the family “is noteworthy” because of the RH law. –

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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