We are a people of dialogue. As such we have the moral obligation to search for the truth in freedom, the truth about God, about life, about ourselves, our country, our society, our world and the events around us.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Defending the Primacy of the Spirit

The Honorable Congressman Edcel C. Lagman recently invited me to a debate on the controversial House Bill 3773, also known as the “Population Management Bill”, and referred to as the “Killer Bill”, being anti-life. I had to decline the Congressman’s invitation, stating my reasons in a letter sent to him last March 21.
I explained to the Congressman that debating on public issues, even if they have a moral content, is not part of our role as bishops and spiritual leaders. We are duty-bound to teach and guide our people through our preaching, pastoral letters, and catechetical instructions as well as through our schools and lay associations which are the normal and traditional ways of forming and educating them in the faith. We have our schools of philosophy and theology where intellectual debates are encouraged for the purpose of acquiring skills in rational argumentation and also for clarifying and deepening comprehension of shared doctrines. I suggested to him that they would welcome his challenge.

A debate on the issue, I believe, would be an exercise in futility; thus I wrote him: “It is on this point of shared doctrines that we differ. We do not share with you the same world view and the same understanding of the human person and of human life that needs growth and development. The title of your Bill 3773, its declaration of policy and guiding principles reflect an understanding of a reality as purely material, that is, the world, life, development, population, responsible parenthood, and population management—are about the needs of the human body only. This is a philosophical understanding of Reality that can be traced to Karl Marx and other materialist philosophers.”

Though we are embodied spirits we uphold and defend the primacy of the spirit over the body/matter. From this are derived spiritual and moral values which complete the total development of the human person. The bill reverses and turns upside down this universally accepted scale of values and makes the human body superior to the spirit which is the transformative element in the human psyche. An example of this is its first guiding principle: “Since manpower is the principal asset of every country, effective reproductive health services must be given primacy to ensure the birth of healthy children and to promote responsible parenting.” Healthy babies only for the manpower needs of the country? Manpower is the principal asset in every country? This is not acceptable at all. Common sense says so.

I assured the Congressman that we respect their views and we admire the logic in the bill’s presentation. But their premise is wrong. Therefore, their conclusions are also wrong. The bill could still be improved if its authors are open to our suggestions. I reminded Congressman Lagman that most of his constituencies are Catholics, some of whom are bishops, priests and religious of his beloved Albay and he can approach them. I myself would welcome a one-on-one private talk with him.

I can only hope that Congressman Lagman understands the Church’s position on human life and total human development. It is still the same in substance and principle since its beginnings two thousand years ago.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

April 3, 2005