Team Patay, Team Buhay: Unconscionable

Putting posters up about conscience in the context of a particular vote for or against people trivializes the moral authority of the Church

Fr Joel Tabora, SJI could not believe what I’d heard. On the occasion of the campaigning of the Liberal Party in Bacolod, the cathedral was dressed up in anti-RH red (please note: the communists had nothing to do with that!) and a huge tarpaulin was raised that was entitled, “Conscience Vote.”

It was divided into two sections, the higher portion in deep anti-RH red reserved for those who voted against the infamous Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health bill (now RA 10354), marked with a check, meaning, “These are the ones you are to vote for out of loyalty to the Church!” Actually named, presumably in alphabetical order, were: JV Estrada, Honasan, Magsaysay, Pimental, Trillanes, and Villar. Even party lists were named: Buhay and Ang Pamilya.

The lower portion was in black (for black sheep, I take it, or the black of darkness! Jesuits vehemently deny it had anything to do with the Black Pope!), and reserved for those who had voted for the RH Bill. It was marked with a prominent “X” in flaming red (that conjured the images of hellfire!), meaning, of course, “These are the ones you don’t vote for in your ignorance and immaturity!” Actually named: JE Angara, Casiño, AP Cayetano, Enrile, Escudero, Hontiveros, Legarda. Party lists also shared the darkness: Gabriela, Akbayan, Bayan Mina, Anakpawis.

“Catholic Church” strategists seem to be thinking (well, sort of!): if they lost the battle against the RH Bill, they have a war to win in the forthcoming elections.

The battle for RH sanctity is joined not only through proxies in the Supreme Court; it is now joined in the tough arena of partisan politics. Where the “Catholic Church” once played the role of the honest broker, confining itself officially to “voters education” and securing clean and honest elections, they have now effectively reduced the “Catholic Church” to a political party.

So beware, you politicians who are clearly enemies of God and country! Beware, because in our plural, democratic society you did not take the anti-RH position of the “Catholic Church” to heart! You are enemies of God, you are enemies of the Truth, you are enemies of Divinity! The “Catholic Vote” will reject you, and set you packing to the eternal consequences of your disobedience!

Only, there is no “Catholic Vote.”

Silly in its arrogance

One elderly lady interviewed on TV in front of the Bacolod Cathedral said, “I’m old enough to decide for myself.” Me too! There are names whom I am considering voting for as senators in the red. I will certainly vote for some candidates who are in the black. I will do so in full possession of my thinking faculties and moral reason. I will do so as a Catholic. An insinuation in such as the Bacolod Tarp that should I vote for names in the black, it would not be a “conscience vote,” is silly in its arrogance. And harmful to the Church’s Gospel.

Fast forward to the Day of Judgment (Cf. Mt. 25: 31-46). On that day, the Son of Man shall come in “in all his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right and the goats at his left” (Mt. 26: 31-33”). We all know the account well which ends with the Just Judge saying, “Just as you have done to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me” (Mt. 26. 40).

If there is a moral litmus test for Catholic morality and conscience it is here, where Jesus reveals the criterion for heaven or hell. “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 26: 35-36).

On the day of the Last Judgment, the decisive question will not be, “Did you or did you not vote for the RH-Bill?” but, “Did you or did you not find me in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned.”

As I have tried to demonstrate in an earlier blog, there is nothing in the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law (RA 10354) that forces a Catholic to do anything against his or her will. If as Pope Paul VI has taught in a letter written in1968, Catholics accept that each and every conjugal act must be accomplished in its unitive and procreative meanings, i.e., as an expression of love for one’s spouse and with the intention to procreate, except when for grave reasons procreation is avoided through natural family planning, then there is nothing in RA 10354 that prevents the Catholic from living this. The Catholic only must choose to do so.

RA 10354 clearly proscribes abortion. It respects the conscience of Catholic government workers. It undertakes to fund and promote natural family planning.

It is, however, not a law that is written so that Catholics will follow the teachings of their Church. It is a law legislated for the common good in a constitutional society, where – whether the Church likes it or not! – it is Congress that decides which laws are for the common good, and which not.

In this plural society, the Church proposes, Congress disposes.

In today’s global reality, where some countries allow abortion, promote artificial and abortifacient contraception indiscriminately, legislate the maximum number of allowable children to a family, monopolize sex education, and fire health workers who do not comply with their population control law, RA 10354 has been written by legislators with palpable respect for the doctrine, consciense and sensitivities of the Catholic Church. They know, as the Aquino administration knows, best efforts were made to come into dialogue with the concerned Church and its experts in drafting the RH law. Major changes were introduced because of the Catholic influence. It is grossly unjust to assert now that it is unconscionable for Catholics to vote for these legislators.

So, on the Day of Judgment, the Just Judge will probably not ask, “Did you vote for the RH-Bill or not.” But if he were to ask this question, he would probably follow it up with another:

If you did vote for the RH-Bill, why did you do so? If you say, “I was genuinely concerned about human dignity. I was genuinely concerned about the transmission of life that is responsible and dignified. I was genuinely concerned about the poor. I was genuinely concerned about conditions of love between husband and wife. I was genuinely concerned about the health of mother and child during pregnancy. I was genuinely concerned about the welfare of those who err in procuring abortions,” I do not think that despite your classification by the Bacolod Cathedral Jesus will number you among the goats.

If you did vote against the RH-Bill, why did you do so? If you say, “I was afraid of the Catholic Vote. I feared the wrath of the CBCP. I was afraid of the passionate protagonists of life. I was afraid to go to hell,” I think that, despite your classification by the Bacolod Cathedral, because you were mainly focused on your welfare and not on Jesus present among his poor, you may miss being numbered among the sheep.

If the “Catholic Church” is truly convinced of its position, convince first the Catholics of it, then propose law based on their collective witness. Running to legislation to do the job of proclamation and religious education will not convince Catholics who are not convinced. In truth, if Catholics over the long term are not convinced, then it may be time to open the doors and windows of the cathedral, let the fresh air come in, and listen to the Holy Spirit.

Trivializing moral authority

Putting posters up about conscience in the context of a particular vote for or against particular people squanders and trivializes the moral authority of the Church. If it is pronounced unconscionable to vote for a candidate because of a contestable “Catholic Church” position (the issue, remember, was the enactment of a secular law in a plural state, not the level of veracity of a doctrine!), who will believe the Church when she attempts to bind in conscience to pursue the common good, to overcome debilitating poverty, to protect the environment, to work for a society of true human flourishing?

When the Bacolod Cathedral turned red and put up its tarpaulin, a young man of conscience from that city, who had been properly exposed to church doctrine and Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae (DH), announced on the Internet that he is leaving the Church in indignation. He could not reconcile the Bacolod caper with the teachings of DH:

“The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power” (DH, 2).

“This Vatican Synod declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men [and women] are to be immune from coercion on the part of individual or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or with others, within due limits. … the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known by the revealed Word of God and by reason itself” (DH, Ch. I, 2).

The young man left the Church to protect the integrity of his conscience, which he felt had been violated in Bacolod. I hope the Spirit leads him back.

Meanwhile, where is the truth? Where the Spirit is present in the communion of all the disciples of Jesus in the world, not just in the bishops, the truth and imperatives of conscience can no longer be imposed on all by clerics and conservatives from on high.

After the Crusades, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Wars of Religion, Vatican II, and paradigm-shifted insight into God’s presence in a plural society, the Church can no longer impose its existence and message on the world, just as the world cannot – or at least ought not – impose its values and mores on the Church. Listening will have to be two-way, and discernment shared.

At its center: Jesus, the Father turned towards us in Love. Key player here: the laity. –

Fr Joel Tabora, a Jesuit priest, is president of the Ateneo de Davao University. His blog contains the original version of this article.

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