Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ANC’s half-Truths

ANC’s edition of Truths last Monday left me preoccupied. Aside from the fact that clearly the mentality behind is a latent support for the legalization of abortion in the Philippines (as can be deduced from its arguments), I am deeply troubled by the misunderstanding it feeds on our people regarding the Church-backed Natural Family Planning. As the Church ordained minister and the people’s conscience formator, I feel the obligation to clarify some points here.

In the program, the narrator presents an interview of a Catholic priest who explained how the two dimensions of sexual activity – the unitive and the procreative – should not be separated. Immediately, the reporter notes that the Church’s teaching here involves a contradiction since the Church also promotes Natural Family Planning which entails doing sexual activity during infertile periods; hence, separating the procreative from the unitive dimension. The reporter could have asked the interviewed priest how to explain this. But she did not. She simply jumped into her conclusion. This gave me reason to assume that the Truths’ edition last Monday is grossly biased in favor of the anti-life mentality.

* * *

In the Natural Family Planning, the couple is engaged in sexual activity during infertile periods. Naturally, no life could come out; hence, the sexual activity does not yield the creation of new life. But this does not mean that the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual activity are separated. Why? Simply because it does not involve an anti-life mentality. Let me explain.

The procreative dimension refers to openness in the transmission of life or fecundity. In God’s design of creation, fecundity is a cycle. And there are periods wherein transmission of life is not possible. Sexual activities done within these periods are still open to life; it’s just that no life yet is possible. Hence, it cannot involve an anti-life mentality. And the couple’s desire not to have a baby is only secondary to God’s will. They simply cooperate in God’s procreative design, so to speak.

On the contrary, in the use of artificial methods or contraceptives, the anti-life mentality is clearly manifest. Regardless of whether the woman is fertile or not, the couple’s intention in sexual activities is to block the transmission of life. Hence, it intentionally separates the procreative from the unitive dimension. In the natural way, the couple’s desire not to have a baby seconds God’s will as manifested in nature. In the artificial way, the couple simply rejects God’s will to transmit life. That is why, it is rightly called contraception (“contra” = against; “conception” = life).

The Church’s teaching on this aspect is quite clear. It is a total irresponsibility on the part of the reporter not to have researched on this and to simply brush aside the Church’s teaching as contradictory. To fill-in that gap left by ANC’s Truths’ half-truths, here is the full truth.

* * *

“Never is it permitted to separate these different aspects [unitive and procreative] to the point of excluding positively either the intention of procreation or the conjugal relation”. (Pius XII, Allocution to the Members of the II World Congress of Fertility and Sterility, May 19, 1956)

“The husband and wife do no wrong in seeking out and enjoying this pleasure [cooperating with God in propagating the human race]. They are accepting what the Creator intended for them. Still, here too, the husband and wife ought to know how to keep within the bounds of moderation. As in eating and drinking, they ought not to give themselves over completely to the promptings of their senses, so neither ought they to subject themselves unrestrainedly to their sensual appetite. This, therefore, is the rule to be followed: the use of the natural, generative instinct and function is lawful in the married state only, and in the service of the purposes for which marriage exists”. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

“The moral lawfulness of such conduct [limiting the use of the marital act to times of natural sterility] would be affirmed or denied according as to whether or not the intention to keep constantly to these periods is based on sufficient and reliable moral grounds. The sole fact that the couple do not offend against the nature of the act and that they are willing to accept and bring up the child that is born notwithstanding the precautions they have taken, would not of itself alone be sufficient guarantee of a right intention and of the unquestionable morality of the motives themselves”. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

* * *

Watching ANC’s Truths left me preoccupied but with another important lesson learned: not everything that the media feed us is the truth, even though they would call it Truths. Hence, we need to be very careful and critical. Knowing better our faith and the Church’s teachings is our effective shield against the obvious ideological indoctrination that is going on around us. There’s no deadliest danger than being misinformed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fallacies of legalizing abortion

(A response to an article entitled “Filipino women need safe and legal abortion in RP” by EnGendeRights, August 2, 2010, posted in ABS-CBNews.com. See http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/insights/08/06/10/filipino-women-need-safe-and-legal-abortion-rp).


One needs not study Logic or Philosophy to see how this article is replete with lots of fallacious arguments. I am not exaggerating when I say that the bottom line of what it tries to convey is this: that we should save our women from numerous maternal deaths brought about by unsafe abortion methods by legally killing our children! In what follows, I shall unmask each of these fallacies and argue that abortion is immoral because it an act of murder. Legalizing abortion does not change its immorality, for what is legal may not necessarily be morally right.

The article opens with this affirmation: “‘Filipinos should address the issue of access to safe and legal abortion in the country. The impact of lack of access to safe and legal abortion is a grave public health issue as shown in the report of New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights entitled, “Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban”, which was released today at Annabel’s restaurant. In the Philippines, over half of all pregnancies are unintended and one-third of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Due to the illegality of abortion, Filipino women induce abortion clandestinely through unsafe methods. The report cites recent statistics showing about half a million Filipino women yearly who, because of various reasons including rape and dire socio-economic reasons, induce abortion with about 1000 women dying and 90,000 being hospitalized due to complications from unsafe abortion. This means that the illegality of abortion does not stop abortion but only makes it dangerous for the health and lives of Filipino women,’ said Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, and former Visiting International Legal Fellow at Center for Reproductive Rights”.

The basic structure of the argument is this: because abortion is illegal in the Philippines, women clandestinely abort their babies through unsafe methods and many die due to complications. Therefore, to avoid numerous maternal deaths, abortion should be legalized to provide safer abortion methods.

The first fallacy committed in this argument is confusing cause and effect. The banning of abortion is not the direct cause of the numerous deaths of women who abort their children. Hence, the conclusion on the legalization of abortion to curb these deaths is fallacious. The illegality of abortion is simply a contributing or circumstantial factor that drives women to clandestine abortion employing unsafe methods, but never its cause. Abortion is harmful (may cause numerous maternal deaths) not because it is illegal. It is illegal – not legally allowed – because it is harmful: it causes the death of children and – as Padilla has cited – possibly that of the mother.

But what directly causes these numerous deaths of women is the women’s decision to abort. Had they not decided to abort their child, they would never have died of unsafe abortion methods. Now, legalizing abortion does not guarantee that these deaths would not occur. Instead, if abortion is legalized, more women would be encouraged to abort. The legalization of abortion would only raise to the highest level the risk of numerous maternal deaths.

A corollary fallacy in Padilla’s argument is this: legalizing abortion brings about safer abortion methods. This is absolutely false! Abortion, whether legal or illegal, is never safe because it always puts the mother’s life in great danger, while it kills mercilessly the child. That which kills is never safe!

So that women should not die due to complications from unsafe abortion, the best solution is not the legalization of abortion. The first most efficient solution is for the mother to decide NOT TO ABORT. This is the safest means to avoid numerous maternal deaths. Second, we need to persecute legally those who are doing abortion illegally in this country. If women would not abort and the law is implemented well, I am sure the problem will be solved.

The second fallacy is the appeal to authority. The report of New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) claims to be an authority on this subject because it has conducted a statistical study on abortion in the Philippines. Padilla’s argument appeals to this authority and argues that we should consider its findings in addressing “the issue of access to safe and legal abortion in the country”. The basic structure of Padilla’s argument is this: CRR is an authority on this subject. CRR conducted this study and says that the impact of the illegality of abortion in the Philippines is harmful. Hence, CRR’s finding and conclusion is true.

Any law student who studies Logic could demonstrate well how illogical this argument is. CRR’s finding cannot be true simply because it claims authority on this subject. It can be true only if it follows logical reasoning, which I doubt it does. Hence, to argue that CRR’s conclusion is true because it is an authority on this subject is a fallacy.

I don’t doubt the professional authority of CRR in conducting statistical studies. But given the fallacious reasoning of its conclusion (namely, that illegal abortion causes numerous maternal deaths), what I doubt is its moral authority. When an argument does not follow reason, it cannot have moral authority because as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The moral law is that part of the eternal law that applies to human choices and can be known by our natural reason”. Hence, what does not follow logical reasoning cannot claim moral authority. The CRR cannot have the moral authority on this subject simply because it lacks logical reasoning. Then, why should we appeal to it?

The most notorious of Padilla’s fallacies is a double fallacy of the appeal to common practice and the appeal to popularity. Here’s how she formulates it: “Spain has liberalized its laws to allow abortion on broad grounds and yet we are left to contend with our old colonial laws. Other predominantly Catholic countries that allow abortion are Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Hungary (whose constitution protects life from conception but permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation). Recent abortion liberalizations occurred in Colombia, Mexico City (legalized abortion in the first trimester without restriction in April 2007) and Portugal (allows abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy).”

While it may true that the Philippine legal restriction on abortion is “one of the vestiges of Spanish colonization”, it does not logically follow that once Spain has lifted up its restriction, the Philippines should also follow. That abortion is a common practice in other countries is not a logical argument in favor of its legalization in the Philippines. The mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.

Besides, Padilla mentioned that these countries are Catholic countries, insinuating that even Catholics accept abortion, which is another gross fallacy. In Spain, where I am based at the writing of this article, the law on abortion has been passed despite the strong opposition by thousands of Catholics. With similar fallacious arguments and Machiavellian political tactics now being employed in the Philippines, pro-abortion advocates here had succeeded in pushing anti-life measures like the Spanish abortion law. (Another is the law on same-sex marriage which is also anti-family. I cannot understand why Padilla mentioned this in her article.)

Padilla is right: the abortion law is part of President Zapatero’s “bold social reforms” – bold, because it violates the human person’s basic right to live and the parents’ basic right to take care of their underage pregnant daughters who, thanks to this law, may now abort freely even without parental knowledge and consent. Is this the way we should protect our women from numerous maternal deaths? By eliminating the right of parents to form the conscience and to take care of their pregnant daughters, are we really protecting these women from maternal deaths?

One last fallacious argument. Padilla noted that “The Philippine law on abortion does not even allow express exceptions based on rape, risks to the life and health of the woman and fetal impairment… Our constitution provides equal protection of life from conception and the life of the woman. This constitutional provision does not prohibit abortion as exemplified in the case of Hungary which has the same constitutional provision at the same (time) permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation. In the case of Colombia, the Constitutional Court declared the Colombian abortion law unconstitutional and permitted abortion on the following circumstances: when the woman’s life or health is in danger; when the pregnancy is the result of rape; and when the fetus has malformation incompatible with life outside the uterus”.

Very intriguingly, Padilla considered logical the fact that Hungary and Colombia permit abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation while providing in their respective constitution equal protection of life from conception and the life of the woman. But she seemed to find it illogical that the Philippines prohibit abortion, adhering completely to its constitutional vow of protecting life from conception. Obviously, the Philippines is more consistent with its constitutional commitment than the other two abovementioned countries. I cannot understand why those who are inconsistent in their words and actions are admired and commended, while those who are consistent and faithful are disapproved and criticized.

An immoral act can hardly be defended by any rational argument. No sufficient appeal to authority or to statistics can change the immorality of abortion, whether legal or illegal. Its basic logical structure is simple: Murder is a heinous immoral crime. Any action that kills a living human being is murder. Abortion takes the life of a living human fetus inside the womb of the mother. Abortion is a heinous immoral crime.

Abortion advocates would usually argue that the fetus is not yet a human being, or if it already is, it is not yet considered a human person. But if it is not a human being, what is it? If it is not yet a human person, when will it become? What these abortion advocates could not deny is that abortion, besides possibly killing the mother, surely kills a living being, the child. And killing is murder. The most logical question they cannot answer logically is this: Why not let our children live?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

God never wastes time!

God does not waste time. This was the conclusion I arrived at upon reflecting on this experience.

One Sunday afternoon, while waiting for Luis, a friend of mine in his 50’s and a native of Zaragoza, who volunteered to take me in his car to Salou (a 20-minute drive from Tarragona) where I had a Mass at 8:00 P.M., I started the first glorious mystery of the Holy Rosary in front of the house where I was staying.

“¿Tú eres un cura?” (Are you a priest?), out of the blue, a middle-aged half-Romanian, half-Italian (I learned it later from him) man addressed me. As soon as I said yes, thinking that again my black clergyman has effectively revealed my identity, he immediately enumerated his grave sins.

“Yo he sido un drogadicto, alcohólico y he frecuentado los lugares malos como los de prostitución, etc.” (I have been a drug-addict, an alcoholic and I have frequently been in prostitution houses, etc.), he started to say. I wonder why the sight of a priest would always evoke in us the sensation of repentance and self-accusation. It happens to me oftentimes. Upon knowing that I am a priest, a newly-met person would say, “So, you’re a priest. It has been a long time since I had my last confession”.

Even in cases of jeers from people who are anti-Church and anti-clerics, this is the main topic for ridicule: that priests are ministers of confession, and therefore, seeing a priest is like reminding one’s self of his sinfulness. But even if reminding others (and especially myself) of our sinfulness were the only significance of my being a priest, it would be very worthwhile to be a priest.

* * *

“Tienes todavía esperanza”, (You still have hope), I sounded firm as I responded. And I saw a look of bewilderment on his face. May bukas pa is not just an understatement, although here in Spain it appears to be so, considering the economic and moral crisis that the society is suffering.

But a priest should be a living sign of that hope. And he can only be that sign if he lives with it concretely everyday of his life. Every after confession, after receiving the absolution, we can feel that sense of hope slowly transforming our lives for the better. It is a “performative”, not just an “informative” hope, as Pope Benedict XVI distinguishes (Cfr. Encyclical Letter Spe salvi, 4).

Despite our sinfulness, I think we have to cling to this hope. Of the three theological virtues, charity may be the greatest. But it is hope which is (and should be) the last to lose. By sinning, we may lack faith, we may go against charity; but we should never lose hope.

* * *

“Tienes todavía esperanza porque el Hijo del Dios vino para buscar a los…” (You still have hope because the Son of God came to rescue the …), I held my tongue, reluctant to mention “pecadores” (sinners) for it may hurt his sensibilities. But quickly he completed my sentence with “…enfermos” (the sick). I conceded.

To consider ourselves sick in front of God is the beginning of wisdom, of healing and of salvation. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Psalmist says. But why we fear the Lord? Because we know we have offended Him. And we know the consequences of offending Him, that’s why we fear offending Him again. But this refers to a filial fear, the fear of a son of God.

We can only be healed of our spiritual malady if we learn to recognize it in the first place. To refuse to see ourselves sick in front of God is pure pride. Besides, such refusal carries with it the logical consequence of not needing Christ and His salvation anymore. If I don’t need healing, I don’t need Christ. But if I am sick, “Lord, heal me!”

* * *

“Ya te encomendaré en mi misa” (I will pray for you in my Mass), I bade him farewell as he started to walk away. “Ya me voy, tengo que rezar mucho todavía”(I have to go; I need to pray more), was his reply. Both of us were refreshed by such a short but very substantial conversation. With the hope of being healed, both of us came out revitalized.

Indeed, God never wastes time! I was just waiting for a ride but He came to remind me of His love and to refresh me with His hope.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Should a seminarian have a girlfriend?

At the outset, the question is mistakenly formulated. And the mistake is in the “should”, for if we insist on this formula, my immediate answer is a big NO! Clarifying some ideas on this topic would explain my point. Our aim? Clear ideas.

The choice of this topic is occasioned by an email sent to me by a certain confused young girl (she calls herself the “Confused One”) two months ago. Her commentaries and questions were provoked by an article (which she attributed to me) supposedly published in DCHerald, about this question: “Should a seminarian have a girlfriend?”

* * *

Ideas to be clarified: The seminary is a place where vocations to the priesthood are discerned, discovered, nurtured and fortified (in this order). This is the aim of both the college (philosophical studies) as well as the theological seminaries (theological studies), although we may think that in the former, more emphasis is placed on the first two, while in the latter, on the last two, but without separating all of them.

Effectively, young men (most of whom have just finished high school) feel an inclination or a certain attraction to the priesthood or religious life, which usually is a first sign of priestly vocation, though not an exclusive one. (I know of some vocation history of priests who, at first, felt repulsion at the idea of entering the seminary, but ended up being ordained). Moved by such attraction, they decide to enter the seminary with the aim of discerning more clearly what the Lord wants of them. In the seminary, they receive a formation apt to this objective: to discern and nurture their vocations to the priesthood.

I always understand this experience as something comparable to that phase in romantic relationships that we call physical attraction and courtship. Young men who are inclined more to married life (in contrast to the example above) find gorgeous girls and propose plans to court them, with an analogous objective: to discern (if this is real love) and to nurture it (if it is true love) in order to bring it to completion in marriage.

* * *

In a word, seminary formation and romantic relationships are both preparations to two different but correlated life vocations: priesthood and married life. Correlated, I said, because thanks to the parents, we have priests. And thanks to priests, we have sacramentally married couple. If seminarians inclined to priesthood prepare themselves in the seminary for their future priestly ministry, young men inclined to married life prepare themselves through courtship and romantic relationships, for their future married life.

In both preparations, two requirements are essential in order to achieve the goal of each: commitment and sincerity. Those who decide to enter the seminary to discern and nurture their priestly vocations commit themselves to such a goal and responsibility by being sincere to themselves (to their decision), to God (Who they believe calls them) and to others (their bishops, formators, parents, benefactors and friends). The same commitment and sincerity are required in a romantic relationship. Once the girl perceives that the guy is insincere and is not committed to the relationship, a break-up would surely ensue (unless both are only up to a mere fling).

Now the questions: What if the young lad who is inclined to the priestly vocation is the same young man who is courting a girl? In other words, is it admissible for a seminarian to court a girl and, consequently, maintain a romantic relationship with her? Is it possible to be committed genuinely to the attainment of the goals of priestly formation and, at the same time, be committed honestly to the goals of courtship and romantic relationships?

* * *

If you are keen enough, you’d notice that in the first question, I employ the term admissible while in the second, possible. The answers to both are obvious. It is NOT ADMISSIBLE that a seminarian should court and maintain a romantic relationship with a girl simply because it is NOT POSSIBLE to be committed and sincere to both goals – those of the priesthood and those of the romantic relationships. In other words, a seminarian could not be committed and sincere to both his priestly formation and his girlfriend. As simple as that!

Partly, this explains my answer to the question at the outset. Not without reason the seminary prohibits that seminarians should have a girlfriend. It is not merely an arbitrary prohibition. It is something that is based on the order of things, on clear ideas and principles.

My letter sender mentioned some objections like: “Bawal bang magmahal ang isang seminarista?”, “Having a girlfriend is also formative for a seminarian” or “When a seminarian says ‘I love you’ to a girl, is he courting her?” I’m afraid we need to wait for other occasions to reflect on these questions.

"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.