IT WILL take a miracle for the Catholic Church to undertake a civil disobedience campaign against the use of contraceptives because the vast majority of Filipinos are in fact against the Church’s stand. They unequivocally support a state-sponsored modern family planning program.
According to two Ulat ng Bayan Pulse Asia surveys (October 2008 and March 2007), 82 percent of Filipinos nationwide think it is government’s duty to provide knowledge, services and materials for modern family planning methods, both natural and artificial. In Manila, considered the more informed sector of our nation, the support rises to 86 percent.
The Pulse Asia surveys also imply that the claim that the Church through its faithful can block a candidate supporting birth control from winning an election is a myth. Some 72 percent of Filipinos nationwide and 74 percent in Metro Manila in fact think it is important for candidates to include state-financed family planning in their promised programs, and that they would vote for candidates favoring such programs. President Aquino shouldn’t worry a bit that his principled stance on family planning isn’t supported by Catholics. In fact, the big majority most definitely do.
Most Filipinos aren’t also buying the Church’s dogma that contraceptives are really abortifacients, which therefore violate the Church teachings, and carry the automatic excommunication penalty. A 2009 survey also by Pulse Asia for the Forum for Family Planning and Development showed that 50 percent of Filipinos think that artificial contraceptives such as condoms, IUDs and pills should not be considered as abortion-agents. A big majority of 68 percent, according to this survey, think that there should be a law requiring the state to distribute contraceptives to people who want these.
Filipino Catholics’ support for the use of artificial contraceptives isn’t really surprising. The overwhelming majority of the best and the brightest of Catholicism all over the world actually supported the use of such contraceptives, when the issue was first debated in the 1960s. The fascinating details how this consensus got to be rejected by the Church are told by an insider, Robert McClory, in his 1997 book “Turning Point,” subtitled, “The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church.”
In 1963, Pope John XXIII established a six-man Pontifical Birth Control Commission to study whether the use of artificial birth control methods, which were just starting to take off then, violated Church teachings. After his death, his successor Pope Paul VI expanded the commission to 72 members to consist of cardinals, bishops, theologians, medical doctors and Catholic experts from various fields. It also included lay Catholic leaders, and among those invited were McClory and his wife, since the Christian Family Movement they founded was one of the biggest Catholic organizations at that time.
The overwhelming majority in the commission concluded that artificial birth control did not violate the Church’s teachings, and that Catholic couples should decide for themselves what methods to use. However, a Jesuit theologian wrote a dissenting report, signed by three other theologian-priests, a bishop and—this proved to be most crucial—by the ultra-conservative Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. It was Ottaviani who is said to have single-handedly convinced Pope Paul VI to reject the pro-contraceptive report signed by the 70-plus members of the commission, and instead adopt the dissenting report of just six members, that the Church should label artificial contraceptives as intrinsically evil.
How could the cardinal have done this? The Italian cardinal, according to an obituary on his death in 1979, was “one of the most feared and powerful princes of the Roman Catholic world,” who even called himself the “carabiniere” (policeman) of Church orthodoxy. His conservatism was demonstrated later in his vehement opposition to the changes in the liturgy, ordered by the Second Vatican Council, which adapted the Church to the modern world. Despite the Vatican practice of secrecy, Ottaviani’s opposition—with its implied defiance of the Pope—was so much publicized in 1969 that it came to be known as the “Ottaviani intervention.” Ottaviani’s ultra-reactionary world view was even reflected in his episcopal motto, “Semper idem” (Always the same).
Ottaviani was the most influential cardinal in the 1963 Papal Conclave, which elected as pope the bishop of Milan Giovanni Batista Montini, who assumed the name Paul VI. It was solely Ottaviani who was authorized to announce to the world the election of the new pope, whose Humanae Vitae encyclical set in stone the Church’s uncompromising stand against artificial.
The picture that emerges is as follows: Like all politicians, Ottaviani reminded Paul VI that he, indisputably the most powerful prince of the Church then, helped him become pope, so that he should therefore take his advice to reject the commission’s majority report. Pope Paul VI gave in, thinking that the Second Vatican Council was the more important battle, instead of contraceptive use, which wasn’t after all, a burning issue at that time. Ottaviani’s “Semper idem” abhorrence of contraceptives became the Church dogma, and succeeding popes never dared reverse a predecessor’s encyclical.
Ottaviani passed away in 1979, and his ultra-conservative bloc in the Church that wanted it to remain in the medieval world view weakened to insignificance. His legacy—or his curse—lives on though, most prominently in our country.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer