Sex and Religion

Finding Religion and Spirituality in Population, Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Health Advocacy in the Philippines.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Population Question, Again

By Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr.
Manila Standard Today/ July 31, 2007

IT is reported that the Philippine population is now nearing the 89 million mark. The very mention of our population numbers triggers thoughts about our “population problem.” This in turn leads our thoughts to the conflicting position of the Church and many concerned people in the business and political world regarding the proper approach and solution to this concern.

For all the talk in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines about “critical collaboration,” the population question is one area where the CBCP has not been able to, precisely, collaborate critically with the government in approaching, assessing and solving the “problem.” In fact, in this matter, the CBCP and the government have long had an adversarial relationship, dating back to the Marcos times. I am one of those who believe that there can be some kind of collaboration between the CBCP and the government in this matter.

Here, what I want to do is state clearly what is non-negotiable and what is negotiable in the positions taken by the CBCP. Then, I want to suggest how there can be some sort of limited but helpful collaboration between the CBCP and the government.

The non-negotiables: (1) The Church teaches that direct abortion, direct sterilization and direct contraception are wrong in themselves and should not be resorted to. Hence, there is no way that it will say yes to the promotion of these immoral practices. (2) The Church believes that the decision regarding the number of children the couple should have lies with husband and wife themselves. Hence, the Church will object to any coercive type of birth control. (3) The Church considers truthfulness a basic moral consideration in any activity. Hence, the Church cannot accept and propagate deceptive information and will demand that full and truthful information be given regarding birth control methods.

These are the only non-negotiable points regarding the Church’s position on birth control.

It is not the official Catholic position that there is no population problem in our country. It is not the official Catholic position that we should not decelerate our population growth rate. A good Catholic may hold the position that there is a mismatch between our population growth rate and our resources to meet the needs of our growing population. A good Catholic may hold that we should slow down our population growth rate to a manageable level.

Again, while the Church advocates only natural family planning in order to implement a responsible parenthood program, the Church does not reject as immoral any method of birth control that is not directly abortifacient, sterilizing or contraceptive.

So, in what ways can the Church and the government collaborate? Personally, I think it will be a waste of time for the Church and the government to try to come to a consensus that there is indeed a population problem, and that our population growth rate should be curbed. Within the Church itself, that question has not been settled. And I believe that it need not be settled in order to achieve effective collaboration.

But the Church and the government can still collaborate toward improving our economic and social condition as a people. They should agree on promoting responsible parenthood. They should agree to project this message together: “Couples should bring into the world only the children whom they can raise up as good human beings.” There will be no objection from the Church to this message, which expresses part of the meaning of responsible parenthood according to Catholic teaching. If all couples get this message and put it into practice, we will arrive at the optimal population growth rate.

In addition, the government can offer to subsidize (without strings attached) the natural family planning program of the Church. Again, there are no insurmountable obstacles for the Church to receive such assistance for a thoroughly moral natural family planning program.

It will be more difficult to effect collaboration if the Church should be asked to take part in government programs of birth control. Bishops have some reservations about being co-opted and being made a part of a government population control program with morally objectionable components from their point of view.

With such beginnings, the Church and government may later on develop other forms of collaboration beneficial to our people.


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