Column: Expelling Catholics

Published on November 4, 2008

I received a forwarded email on Sunday purporting to explain “why being Catholic is not compatible with being pro-RH bill (contrary to the claim of 14 Atenean professors).” I was struck by the opening argument of the letter-writer, which described a false analogy. Call it misleading absolutism.

“To be an Atenean, a student must abide by the rules and regulations of the school, otherwise, Ateneo may expel any student found guilty of violating these, especially the major ones. It is unfortunate that 14 professors of the Ateneo do not apply the same principle to the Catholic Church.”

The analogy is false, because the professors did not in fact violate “the rules and regulations” of the Church in prayerfully discerning their position on the issue, and then acting on it. In fact, as even a cursory reading of the professors’ 16-page statement would show, they took extra pains to ground their reasoning on Church principles.

There is the appeal to Catholic social teaching, repeated throughout the statement but summed up (helpfully enough, for those who can afford only a cursory look) in the statement’s very first paragraph: “We also believe that the provisions of the bill adhere to core principles of Catholic social teaching: the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, integral human development, human rights, and the primacy of conscience.” Citations are provided in the statement (we are talking about academics, after all), but in my view the use of the “core principles” flows out of the discussion and follows the statement’s logic; they are not an add-on, like a shield.

There is also the appeal to the right to information which the Church has come to recognize. “One human right that has received abundant attention in Catholic social teachings is the right to be informed and to form opinions. The Second Vatican Council and the popes since Pope John XXIII have all stressed this right to information as essential for the individual and for society in general. In Pacem in Terris (1963), Pope John XXIII says, ‘[Man] has a right to freedom in investigating the truth’ (no. 12) … Pope John Paul II, in Centesimus Annus (1991), likewise calls attention to ‘the right to develop one’s intelligence and freedom in seeking and knowing the truth’ (no. 47).”

In exercising their freedom to investigate the truth, in developing their intelligence to seek and know it, the professors show all Catholics what it means to live one’s faith in all its dimensions. Think of it this way: The two greatest popes of the 20th century lit the path; the professors are merely walking in it.

* * *

Why would the letter-writer think the professors (I understand the number of signatories has since grown, to almost 70) guilty of violating Church rules? Only one real answer is possible. Because they reached a different conclusion—different, that is, from the conclusion of many bishops, religious and Church organizations, a conclusion I assume the letter-writer shares, that House Bill 5043, the Reproductive Health and Population Development Bill, is downright immoral.

The letter-writer asserts that the professors “arbitrarily proclaim that one can still be a Catholic even if one does not obey her moral teachings.” But it is in fact precisely because of their obedience to the Church’s moral teachings that they struggled with the issue and, by their best lights, reached their conclusion. The Church I know is a font of tolerance: It accepts the very real possibility that men and women of good will may find themselves on different sides of an issue.

An issue, not an article of faith. A Catholic who does not believe, say, in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ may be ardent and devout, but he is no Catholic. On issues like the death penalty, however, or nuclear power or, indeed, on reproductive health, Catholics can disagree. May I refer the letter-writer to the Church doctrine of probabilism?

* * *

I realize that the president of the Ateneo de Manila University (it is best to use the full name; there are four other Ateneo schools in the country, and in the old days there used to be even more) issued a clarification soon after the professors’ statement came out.  In a letter to Archbishop Angel “time to prepare a new government is now” Lagdameo, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres SJ clarified, among other things, that “the Ateneo de Manila University does not agree with [the professors’] position of supporting the present bill. As I said in my letter of October 2 to Archbishop Aniceto and Bishop Reyes, it is ‘the considered opinion of our moral theologians that, although there are points wherein the aforesaid bill and the Catholic moral tradition are in agreement, there are certain positions and provisions in the bill which are incompatible with principles and specific positions of moral teaching which the Catholic Church has held and continues to hold.’”

At the same time, Nebres also took pains to state: “We appreciate [their] efforts … to grapple with serious social issues and to draw from Catholic moral teaching in their study of the bill.” And: “We acknowledge their right to express their views as individual Catholics and appreciate their clear statement that their views are their own and not that of the university.”

I cannot see why the letter-writer, or anyone else, would suggest “expulsion” or its equivalent is appropriate.



Filed under Newsstand: Column

2 responses to “Column: Expelling Catholics

  1. Anna Samovar

    LiveLoveLearnLaugh @ the Kerygma Conference 2008!
    This is a two-day Catholic learning event that started in 2007. It is the brainchild of Bo Sanchez, Catholic lay preacher and best-selling author. It aims to create a profound impact on the participants so that they may be able to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.

    If you have multiply account please add this event to your calendar…

    Please promote this event in your blog…

  2. Annasamovar

    Unleash the Miracle Within: Big Catholic Event –16 hours of free ONLINE VIDEO.
    Refresh your Catholic Life: Kerygma Conference 2008

    Philippine Time
    November 29, 2008 8am- 5pm
    November 30, 2008 8am- 5pm

    International Time
    November 28, 2008 4pm – 1am US/Pacific
    November 29, 2008 4pm -1am US/Pacific

    November 28, 2008 7pm US/Eastern
    November 29 2008 7pm US/Eastern

    Rome. Italy
    November 29, 2008 1am Rome
    November 30, 2008 1am Rome

    November 29, 2008 4am Dubai
    November 30, 2008 4am Dubai

    Visit to be “there” via online video. Please add your timezones under this post to help others convert. This is for all Catholics (specially Filipinos) around the world.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s