Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Humanae Vitae was truly prophetic

July 25 this year marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s highly controversial encyclical on the regulation of birth. It proclaims that the only lawful place for sex is within marriage, and that it is never licit for married couples to obstruct, even for therapeutic reasons, the transmission of human life.

In plain language, artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion have no place in a Christian marriage, less so outside it. No encyclical has provoked a more intense conflict on the issue of human life. Pope John Paul II called it the conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death.

Within the Church, the 1968 encyclical drew fire from dissenters and critics. They had to be reminded after a while that the matter was no longer open for theological debate. But never did Paul VI entertain any doubt about it. In his book, Paul VI, The First Modern Pope, Peter Hebblethwaite recalls that on the eve of the encyclical the Pope told Edouard Cardinal Gagnon: “Don’t be afraid, in twenty years they’ll call me a prophet.”

No statement proved more prophetic. In 1988, Janet E. Smith noted that all the prophecies contained in Humanae Vitae had been fulfilled. The encyclical predicted that:

  • The widespread use of contraceptives would lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality;
  • “The man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion;”
  • The widespread acceptance of contraception would place a dangerous weapon in the hands of public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies; and
  • It would lead men (and women especially) to think they had absolute and unlimited dominion over their bodies.

The facts are beyond dispute. A new sexual morality, brought on largely by free access to contraceptives, has led to mounting divorces, children out of wedlock, teenage pregnancies, and abortion, which has inflicted more casualties than all the wars known to man have.

Not only has time proved Paul VI’s vision prophetic. It has also allowed personal devotion to that Pope, who served from 1963 to 1978, to grow. On my way with my wife to an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo last year, I joined the endless queue to the tomb of John Paul the Great at St. Peter’s. Inside the crypt, everyone stopped before the simple tomb of that loving and much loved saintly Polish pope. Yet there was one other tomb before which people knelt and appeared to be lost in prayer --that of Paul VI.

Ranged against Paul VI was another Paul, with his doomsday scenario of what would happen if humanity failed to stop population growth --- the very opposite of Humanae Vitae’s message. This was Paul Ralph Erlich, a 36-year-old entomologist from Philadelphia specializing in the study of butterflies and moths.

The year the Pope released his encyclical, Erlich published his book, The Population Bomb, an instant bestseller which regurgitated the long discredited Malthusian scare theory about population growth outpacing food supply and added his own doomsday scare.

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” said the book. “In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of the crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…”

Erlich’s prediction was a hoax. Throughout the seventies no country starved, except perhaps where genocidal wars had created their own hell. The American microbiologist and agronomist Norman Ernest Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yielding varieties of wheat and other grain crops to launch the “Green Revolution” in developing countries.

In 1980, Julian Simon, who says man is the “Ultimate Resource” in his book of the same title, entered into a bet with Erlich to see who was right and who was wrong. Erlich predicted that over a certain period metal prices would rise sharply because of scarcity driven by population growth; Simon maintained the opposite. They chose five metals. Erlich lost.

In 1992, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Gary Becker for showing that human capital is really the foremost creator of wealth.. This was a cool rebuke to the renewed activism of the neoMalthusians which allowed the world-famous Jacques-Yves Cousteau to tell the Courrier de l’Unesco a year earlier that we needed to eliminate 350,000 persons a day to stabilize world population.

All over the developed world, the population is declining. Birth and fertility rates are falling; demographers foresee a trebling of people over sixty years old by 2050., and a drastic shrinking of the work force. Infertile Europe is imploding.

Despite Malthus’s long demonstrated failure, his epigones continue to promote population control as a cure, instead of acknowledging it as a disease. In the Philippines, they insist on making the population the scapegoat for all its ills. They refuse to see that in the face of a collapsing global system, the country’s vibrant population stands as its first and last line of defense.

(The writer, a former senator of the Philippines, sits on the governing board of the International Right to Life Federation, Cincinnati, Ohio, and the international and governing boards of World Youth Alliance, New York. He lives in Manila.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

GMA is right on the repro bill

The “culture of death” issue is once again in the headlines, after the Catholic bishops denounced a reproductive health bill which two standing committees are trying to steamroll in the House of Representatives, in violation of the Constitution and the Rules of the House.

Using painfully faulty data, former President Fidel V. Ramos has criticized President Gloria Arroyo for reportedly listening to the bishops, at the cost of her birth control program, which the international repro health lobby is vigorously trying to push.

This is one issue where Ramos and his friends are dead wrong, and Arroyo is refreshingly right. The bill is an abomination, and the effort to ram it through, without observing the process guaranteed by the Constitution and the House’s own rules, makes it even worse.

Women’s health, like everybody else’s, is and should be a permanent concern. But the repro health bill is not about this. It is an attempt to use women’s health to advance an ideology that does not recognize the sanctity of human life or family life, which occupies such a high place in our Constitution, our culture, and our hierarchy of moral values and religious beliefs.

The bill –An Act Providing For A National Policy On Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development and For Other Purposes ---is a consolidation of four bills. Three of the bills were heard once on April 29, 2008 by the House committees on Health and on Population and Family Relations; the fourth was not. On May 21st, the two committees met again purportedly for a second hearing, but declared after a few minutes that the bills had been consolidated into one unnumbered substitute bill, which would now be reported out on second reading for floor debates.

The offense is procedural but fatal. Section 3 (4), Article XV of the Constitution provides: “The State shall defend…the right of families or family associations to participate in the planning and implementation of policies and programs that affect them.” Likewise, Sec. 34 of the Rules of the House requires the committees to “undertake measures and establish systems to ensure that constituencies, sectors or groups whose welfare and interests are directly affected by measures to be discussed are able to participate in these meetings or public hearings.”

Such steamrolling cannot result in any valid legislation. That the proposal had allegedly been filed and heard in the previous Congress, which chose not to act on it, has no effect on the present Congress, which has a different membership altogether. It must go through the mill as if it had never been filed before, and was being heard for the first time.

While the bill purportedly seeks to “uphold and promote responsible parenthood, informed choice, birth spacing and respect for life,” it limits these to those that are “in conformity with universally recognized international human rights.” This denies the unborn the right to life, which is sacred to the Constitution, since so many governments have legalized the killing of the unborn.

The bill seeks full official funding for artificial birth control methods, which the Church condemns as unlawful; which the World Health Organization has determined to be carcinogenic and hazardous to women’s health; and which make a mockery of the constitutional guarantee of “equal protection for the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

It is a blatant attempt to circumvent that core constitutional provision. Equal State protection for the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from the moment of conception leaves no room for the State to support a program that prevents mothers from conceiving. But this is exactly what the bill proposes to do --to reduce the solemn words of the Constitution into a mere shell game.

The controversy has grown ever since Ozamiz Archbishop Jesus Dosado reportedly issued a pastoral letter saying his archdiocese would deny holy communion to church-going pro-abortion politicians. The Code of Canon Law (Can. 1398) provides that “a person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” That is to say, automatic excommunication, without anyone pronouncing sentence.

While advocating abortion may not necessarily be the same as procuring one, “the Church has its own and exclusive right to judge cases which refer to matters which are spiritual or linked with the spiritual; and the violation of ecclesiastical laws and whatever contains an element of sin, to determine guilt and impose ecclesiastical penalties” (Can. 1401).

The separation of Church and State has been invoked. This, however, means the State’s non-interference in the affairs of the Church, which does not owe the State its existence. The Pope has no armed divisions, as Stalin once said, while the State has vast coercive powers. But since the State is not the source of truth, it has no authority or competence to legislate outside of the moral law on the whole complex being of man.