Monday, October 27, 2008

Pope Passes on Pinoy Pill Bill

Amid the Filipino hierarchy's continuing strong opposition to a pending bill that would green-light government distribution of contraceptives in the heavily-Catholic nation, earlier today the Pope took the opportunity to speak highly of the separation of church and state in welcoming the islands' new representative to the Holy See.

Addressing Ambassador Cristina Castañer-Ponce Enrile as she presented her credentials in a private audience, B16 said that the church "carries out [its] mission fully aware of the respective autonomy and competence of church and state.

"Indeed, we may say that the distinction between religion and politics is a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions," the pontiff added. "The church is equally convinced that state and religion are called to support each other as they together serve the personal and social well-being of all," praising the many joint initiatives undertaken in the ambassador's home-country "to protect the weak, especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly."

While the population-control measure didn't come up in the customary papal speech, the government's efforts to aid migrant workers, agrarian reforms and its international commitment in seeking the "advancement of peace, human solidarity and interreligious dialogue" did.

"The Catholic faithful in your country-through their hunger for prayer, their lively devotion, and their eagerness to serve others-demonstrate a firm trust in God’s loving providence," the Pope told the new ambassador, a mother of six. "I am grateful for the unique contribution they have made and continue to make to the life of the local and universal church, and I encourage all men and women of goodwill in your nation to devote themselves to forging bonds of peace and social harmony within your borders and across the globe."

The wife of a prominent supporter of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Enrile's appointment raised a degree of controversy among the Filipino church's top ranks over Arroyo's lack of consultation with the hierarchy and longstanding rumors that the new ambassador and her husband were estranged and living apart.

The bishops have historically wielded significant clout in the island nation, whose population of 90 million is over 80 percent Catholic. Along those lines, after a recent survey indicated that over two-thirds of Filipinos favor the population-control measure, one top hierarch branded the poll "misleading" and an attempt at "mind-conditioning."

"The fact that the bill openly denies and offends the moral law and the express constitutional mandate upon the State to protect human life and the family as an 'inviolable, basic, and autonomous social institution,' cannot be negated by any kind of survey showing whatever results the proponents and supporters of the bill would like to claim," wrote Archbishop Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando, chair of the bishops' family and life efforts. "In order to be binding upon conscience, a law must be just, and objective justice is the only thing that will make it so. Even a unanimous vote in favor of an unjust law cannot and will not make it just."

Further adding to the ad intra fracas, late last week a faculty group at Manila's Jesuit university, the Ateneo, declared in a joint public statement that "it is possible" for Catholics to support the measure "in good conscience."

As of last count, the bill was eight votes short of the 120 needed to pass its second reading in the House of Representatives, which is slated to move on the proposal on its return from recess in early November.