A Catechism on Family and Life
for the 2010 Elections
CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life
December 8, 2009
- 1. Why is a Catechism for the 2010 Elections necessary?
We are going to face serious challenges in the 2010 Elections that are not only political but also clearly and profoundly moral. We are a nation that values family and life and yet for years our elected leaders have been attempting to make laws that pose a grave threat to these values. So once again we find the opportune occasion for the Church to exercise its teaching authority to guide us in carrying out their political responsibilities in a faithful citizenship.
The family has always been among the Church’s urgent concerns because it is both the Domestic Church and the Basic Unit of Society. A strong family is the only assurance to having a strong society.
In the 2004 and 2007 elections, the CBCP encouraged the faithful to exercise their Christian responsibility to be involved in politics in the conscientious selection of candidates, among others. We have consistently spoken out in defense of life and family. We do so again at this historic juncture in our national life.
As Catholic voters, we understand that to protect our society from the invasion of anti-life and anti-family values, we have to form our conscience well. This will enable us to use the power of our vote to demand accountability and coherence from our candidates. We would like to ensure that we have a democracy that is firmly founded on a consistent moral framework that will strengthen the foundation of our society and protect its weakest and most vulnerable members.
This Catechism is written primarily for the Family and Life Ministries of the different dioceses in the Philippines, which fall under the care of this Episcopal Commission. This is also intended as a reference for all families. The aim of this Catechism is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth with regards to family, life and responsible parenthood. It will help to make their faith operative when it comes to living their life in the Church and in society. The intention is not to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election.
This Catechism cannot be read with a casuistic mentality, of one searching for a fine line dividing mortal sin from venial sin. Rather, it should be read from a magnanimous perspective of one who strives to ask how to best serve the Filipino, the Filipino family and the country.
- 2. Will this Catechism on family and life concerns not violate the separation of Church and State?
The separation of Church and State prohibits the State from interfering in Church matters, and prohibits the State from having a State religion. It does not imply a division between belief and public actions, between moral principles and political choices. In fact, the freedom of religion upheld by our Constitution protects the right of believers and religious groups to practice their faith and act on their values in public life.
The Church has the duty to teach Catholics about the importance of taking their Faith with them in all their endeavors, including voting. Catholics must live their faith in order to integrate God into their lives. For faith to be genuine, it must be evident not only in Church activities, but in all aspects of life, at work, at home, and in politics as well. The Constitution guarantees the right of each citizen to exercise his or her religion. Catholics who bring their moral convictions into public life do not threaten democracy or pluralism but rather enrich the nation and its political life.
Every Catholic is both a faithful of the Church and a citizen of our beloved Philippines. The exercise of this faithful citizenship means that when they go to the polls to vote they should not leave God outside. They should take with them, among others:
- A renewed understanding of how God views life: “God created male and female, in the divine image He created them” and “found them to be very good.” (Gen 1:27. 31).
- A remembrance that God created marriage and “that is why man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24). It is not a lifestyle choice that the law can remake into something that God never intended it to be.
- Knowledge of what their beliefs as Catholics are and vote with a well-formed conscience.
- 3. Shouldn’t the Church be limited to the spiritual and religious realms alone?
The obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of our society is a basic part of the mission which the Church received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Second Vatican Council teaches that Christ, the Word made flesh, in showing us the Father’s love, also shows us what it truly means to be human (Gaudium et Spes 22). Christ’s love for us allows us to see our human dignity in full clarity and compels us to love our neighbors as he has loved us. Christ, the Teacher, shows us what is true and good, that is, what is in accord with our human nature as free, intelligent beings created in God’s image and likeness and endowed by the Creator with dignity and rights.
We Catholics share the same respect for the dignity of every person in common with many non-Catholics who accept these truths which are self-evident through the gift of reason. But undeniably what our Catholic faith teaches about the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life helps us to see more clearly these same truths because these are at the very core of the Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. Church authorities exercise their teaching function also by reminding Catholic civil leaders of their moral obligations, especially in matters related to family and life.
- 4. How do we Catholics enrich the democratic process this way?
Our manner of active involvement in the democratic process means that we will use the power of the vote, as citizens of the Republic, to elect political leaders who will uphold and promote the dignity of human life and the sanctity of family and marriage. Through our active participation in the democratic process, including voting, we contribute to ensuring that our democracy firmly underpins moral and ethical values and standards. In the absence of ethical values and standards democracy will become the totalitarian rule of the rich and the powerful who can trample on the rights of the weak and vulnerable, such as the unborn babies, mothers, the elderly and the poor families.
A law-making process that is based simply on the will of the majority and not on ethical principles can easily lead to unjust laws because the will of the majority can be manipulated by powerful interest groups, leaving the weak and vulnerable unprotected.
- 5. On family and life issues, including reproductive health, some Catholics justify their support for positions that are clearly against Church teachings by saying that they “simply follow their conscience.” Should we not follow our conscience?
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains to us that “moral conscience, present in the heart of the person, is a judgment of reason which at the appropriate moment enjoins him to do good and to avoid evil… When attentive to moral conscience, the prudent person can hear the voice of God who speaks to him or her” (no. 372). Conscience is thus not the same as one’s opinions or feelings.
One must always follow one’s conscience. But one also has the obligation to form one’s conscience, because of the possibility of having an erroneous conscience. “One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience” (no. 376).
- 6. As Catholics, how do we correctly form our conscience?
The same Compendium of the Catechism tells us that “an upright and true moral conscience is formed by education and by assimilating the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. It is supported by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and helped by the advice of wise people. Prayer and an examination of conscience can also greatly assist one’s moral formation” (no. 374).
The Church’s teaching authority, also known as the “Magisterium,” endowed by Christ Himself, assists us Catholics in understanding God’s will in specific issues. The Church, as our Mother and Teacher, takes into account what is happening in society and the data offered by the sciences and other fields of knowledge and offers us clear guidelines on certain specific questions.
Thus, for example, we should not think that “abortion is wrong because the Church says so,” but rather, “abortion is wrong because it kills a human being who is one of us, and the Church reminds us of its wrongness.” Indeed, whether the Church says so or not, abortion is always a most violent, unjust and inhumane act committed against the most harmless, defenseless, and weakest member of our society –the baby– and committed by those who have the greatest duty to care for, love and defend him or her most –the mother, father, doctors and other health care professionals.
Similarly, the intrauterine device (IUD) is not wrong because the Church says so. Rather it is wrong in itself whether the Church says so or not, because the IUD can kill a 5-day old baby by preventing him or her from implanting in the mother’s womb. In fact, it is medical literature and not Church dogma that describes the IUD’s modes of action, and it is from these sources that the Church bases her defense of the 5-day old baby. We were once like this 5-day old human being, and he or she, if not killed, would grow to become like us.
Through prayerful reflection of the Word of God and a careful study of Church teachings on family and life (as in other matters), we strive to live out our faith in the world. A well-formed conscience is always formed according to the mind of the Church, which Christ Himself instituted to guide us.
- 7. What does the Church teach regarding “responsible parenthood”?
The profound link between the conjugal union and the gift of life gives married couples a vocation to give life, as long as they can responsibly care for the children they beget. Hence, responsible parenthood calls for an understanding of the reproductive processes of the spouses’ bodies, including the woman’s fertility cycle. And as with any other passion (anger, fear, love for food, desire for more, etc.), the sexual drive should be placed under the control of the intellect and the will, through the exercise of virtues, rendering the sexual faculties truly and exclusively expressive of conjugal love and the self-giving of persons.
Responsible parenthood further involves the decision either (1) to generously raise a numerous family if the couple is capable of doing so, or (2) if there are serious reasons (health, economic, social, psychological, etc.), not to have another child for the time being or indefinitely ( Humanae Vitae 10).
Thus, responsible parenthood has nothing to do with encouraging individuals to use contraceptives as what reproductive health programs do. The sexual union is appropriate only within the context of marital love, which must always be faithful, permanent, and exclusive between one man and one woman that is open to the gift of new life.
Responsible parenthood also has nothing to do with encouraging or coercing couples whether directly or indirectly to have only one or two children. It is not a population control program. Neither the government nor the Church may tell couples how many children to have, for the decision to have either a small or a large family rests on the couple themselves.
- 8. What is the difference between procreation and reproduction?
Reproduction is the process by which living things replicate, to assure the continuity of their species. It is necessary for the species, but not for the individual. Reproduction, as in the case of plants and animals, does not require any bond between persons. On the other hand, procreation is the proper term for human generation as it refers to a loving act between spouses which prepares for a possible creation by God of a new person. Procreation points to a collaboration of parents with God as the ultimate source of this new life. None of these characteristics of human procreation may be found in plant and animal reproduction.
The conjugal act is like a language with two meanings: the unitive and the procreative. Through their union in the conjugal act, a man and a woman give themselves totally to each other in and through their bodies. They are telling each other: “I give myself totally to you, and I love and accept you totally; we are one flesh.” That is the unitive meaning.
Furthermore, the structures and functions of the male and female reproductive systems are such that when a sexual act is performed, there is a possibility of new life to be formed. This gives a procreative meaning to the sexual union. Thus, to accept each other totally includes saying, “since I love and accept you totally as you are, including your bodily functions, I also totally accept the possibility of our love bearing fruit, the gift of a new child.” Thus, the unitive and the procreative meanings of the sexual act cannot be separated from each other.
Textbooks consistently using the term “reproduction” instead of “procreation,” even if intended for Catholic schools, should be thoroughly checked for the contraceptive mentality. They may confuse the students on the Church’s clear teaching on family and life. Presenting the views of dissenting theologians as being on equal authority with Church documents would bring about such confusion.
- 9. Why is contraception morally wrong?
Contraception is any action taken before, during or after the conjugal act which is aimed at impeding the process or the possible fruit of conception. In contraception, it is like the spouses telling each other, “I love you as long as we do not give birth.” In short, contraception makes the conjugal act a lie. It expresses not a total love, but rather a merely conditional or partial love. Contraception separates the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act.
Since many contraceptives have also been shown by medical science to have various ill effects, their use could signify further contradictions and lies. It endangers then the physical well-being of the wife as well as the spiritual health of the marriage.
10. Why are natural methods of birth control not contraception?
The natural methods simply enable the wife to ascertain when she is fertile and when she is infertile. It is scientific information placed at the service of either a procreative decision or a non-procreative decision by the spouses. In this case couples do not do anything to prevent the normal consequences of the marital act from taking place. Rather, they make use of the wife’s God-given cycle in their decision whether to have another child or not for the time being.
11. What is reproductive health?
The UN defines reproductive health as the state of physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. It states that people have the right to a “satisfying and safe sex life.” The conjugal union is natural and proper in marriage, but in contrast, reproductive health disposes all people, including children and adolescents, to the sexual act and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to reproduce, provided that these are not against the law. (Cairo, Program of Action).
Following this definition, if having a satisfying sex life results in an unwanted pregnancy, the mental anguish this causes will negatively affect the person’s mental and social well-being unless one has access to contraception and abortion. This is the convoluted reasoning behind UN agencies’ insistence that reproductive health necessarily presupposes access to contraception and abortion.
Furthermore, the Reproductive Health bill (House Bill 5043), which carries the same definition of reproductive health, will penalize with one to six months imprisonment, and/or 10-50 thousand pesos fine, parents who for example prevent their grade school and high school children from using contraceptives, and having satisfying and safe sex. This item, along with the fact that certain contraceptives actually cause the abortion of 5-day old babies, is often ignored in supposedly unbiased and scientific surveys on the acceptability of the Reproductive Health bill.
All these are in the name of reproductive health and rights. What about the rights of parents? And the rights of the unborn?
12. What are some experiences in other countries in relation to reproductive health and related to family and life issues?
Family and Life workers and families in the Philippines, to whom this Catechism is primarily directed, could easily and clearly see the probable goals of reproductive health and rights advocates in the country, by looking at what is happening abroad. In some countries, school clinics are required to inform parents if their child has been treated for a minor scratch; on the other hand, the same school clinics are PROHIBITED from informing parents if their child seeks treatment for abdominal pains caused by a recent abortion. In other places, children are required to obtain parental consent for a tattoo, but not for an abortion.
A high-ranking official of a foreign country massively funding reproductive health services in the Philippines categorically stated last April that, “We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health, and reproductive health includes access to abortion.” A local columnist rejoiced in November 2008 that “In Mexico City… the long struggle for reproductive health and rights culminated in the recent passage of a law lifting all restrictions on abortion.” Countries all over the world and the United Nations agencies work for reproductive health and rights until they have fully facilitated access to abortion.
Underlying this concept of reproductive or sexual health and rights is a view that radically separates sexuality, procreation and the complementariness between men and women. It is a view that identifies pleasure as the ultimate goal of sexuality and reduces procreation as a function of the health care systems. It also implies that men and women relate in temporary and modifiable unions that are a far cry from the beauty of conjugal love that is fully human, total, faithful, exclusive and open to life.
Men and women are persons before all else, and for this reason sexual behavior cannot be used only for pleasure. Otherwise it would mean using a person simply as an object.
13. In defending family and life, do we Catholics not impose our beliefs on others and violate the principles of tolerance and dialogue?
Many Protestants, Moslems, believers of other religions, and even non-believers share our belief in the dignity and value of human life. Tolerance means respect for the right of other persons to profess a different opinion and belief. However, tolerance cannot be understood as believing that other peoples’ points of view are equally good as one’s own, since this would blur the lines between good and evil and renounce the judgment of a sound and well-informed conscience.
In fact, publicly proclaiming one’s own beliefs is a service for dialogue, because through this way others can know exactly what and how one thinks. One offers one’s thoughts for reflection to others while respecting their beliefs, but without assuming that all beliefs are equally valid.
Attempts to enact legislation promoting anti-family programs receive huge financial assistance and provide alluring incentives to persuade our politicians to commit themselves to their advocacy. Foreign-funded lobby groups have been operating for more than a decade to openly advocate for the enactment of population control laws, as well as abortion-friendly laws in pursuit of the UN Cairo Conference objective of universal abortion rights. It makes one wonder why countries with below replacement fertility rates, desperate for babies and spending huge sums of money to encourage their own citizens to bear more children, contradict themselves by spending huge sums of money to suppress our population growth.
All these are consistent with the 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200 entitled “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for US Security and Overseas Interest” which identified the increase in world population as inimical to the interest of West. This document has been coming out in recent public debates on reproductive health policies, and is available on the internet. Do not reproductive health advocates bow down to their impositions? Is it not more correct to say that they are the ones imposing their policies on our country?
- 14. Is it morally acceptable to vote for an anti-family candidate?
With the foregoing considerations, it would not be morally permissible to vote for candidates who support anti-family policies, including reproductive health (in the particular understanding being presented in the recent debates, which includes, among others, promotion of abortifacients, penalties on parents who do not allow their adolescent children to engage in sexual acts, etc.), or any other moral evil such as abortion, divorce, assisted suicide and euthanasia. Otherwise one becomes an accomplice to the moral evil in question.
The gravity of these questions allows for no political maneuvering. They strike at the heart of the human person and the family and are non-negotiable. Supporting them renders a candidate unacceptable regardless of his position on other matters. The right to life is a paramount issue and hence cannot be placed on the same plane of discernment as the candidate’s positions on the environment, unemployment, health care, or others. This is because, as Pope John Paul II says, the right to life is “the first right, on which all the others are based, and which cannot be recuperated once it is lost.” It is also because the family is the basic unit of society. A candidate lays down the ground for refusing solidarity with anyone if he refuses solidarity with the unborn in the first few days or months of life, or with the dying. Why should anyone vote for such a candidate?
- 15. How should we Catholics engage questions related to family and life similar to the ones discussed in this Catechism?
Whenever we explain our desire to further strengthen the Filipino family, we should base our arguments primarily on legal, medical, economic, educational, psychological, sociological and other scientific data rather than on religious teachings alone. This translation of our faith into legitimate inputs to the policy making process helps our elected officials see more clearly the reasonableness of our advocacy.
For example, factual demographic data from the UN Population Division showing rapid ageing and collapse of the world population in 40 years, or the drop of Philippine fertility below replacement rate in 15 years, are reasonable grounds to encourage elected officials to instead opt to file bills banning contraceptive attempts to bring fertility down. The fact that artificial contraceptives are also abortifacient and cancerous reinforces this argument. This way elected officials will see that those who promote family and life (including in their opposition to the Reproductive Health bill) are not only the Bishops, as the mass media frequently portray, but above all parents, whether Catholics or not, who truly understand the issues, not only as taught by the Church, but as supported by data from the different fields of knowledge.
We Catholics should always remember that we are not only members of God’s People, but of Philippine society as well. Hence when it comes to voting in the 2010 Elections and even beyond, and holding dialogues with our political leaders, we should carry out our responsibilities and demand our rights as citizens. When we speak with our Honorable Senators, Congressmen, Governors, Mayors and other officials, let us highlight our place of residence in provinces and barangays rather than our parishes, our membership in civic groups rather than Church organizations, and our occupation as office workers, businessmen, farmers, firsherfolk, bus or tricycle drivers, vendors, youth and women advocates, and others. Let us emphasize to them that we are their constituents –citizens, taxpayers and voters– who have put them into office, and demand that laws protecting the Filipino Family be firmly upheld.
Excerpts from CBCP documents related to the themes presented in this Catechism, highlighting the value of Family and Life, and the obligations of the faithful
in the exercise of political choices. Full texts may be downloaded from the CBCP website: