Vatican City, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis approved a proposal Monday on the future of the Institute for Religious Works, commonly known as the “Vatican bank,” affirming its importance for the good of the Church.
“The IOR will continue to serve with prudence and provide specialized financial services to the Catholic Church worldwide,” read a statement from the Holy See press office released April 7.
“The valuable services that can be offered by the Institute assist the Holy Father in his mission as universal pastor and also aid those institutions and individuals who collaborate with him in his ministry.”
The proposal has not been detailed, but seems to deal with the insertion of the Vatican bank among the wider reform of the Holy See’s financial departments.
It was developed by the organizations charged with oversight and reform at the Vatican bank, and was presented by Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, with the permission of Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, president of the Vatican bank’s cardinal commission.
The Secretariat for the Economy, established Feb. 24, should have a prime role to play in the reformation of Vatican finances, including the Vatican bank.
“With the confirmation of the IOR’s mission and at the request of Cardinal-Prefect Pell, the President of the Board of Superintendence, Ernst von Freyberg, and the management of the IOR, will finalize their plan to ensure that the IOR can fulfil its mission as part of the new financial structures of the Holy See/Vatican City State,” the press office announced.
“The plan will be presented to the Holy Father’s Council of Cardinals and the Council for the Economy.”
It was also noted that the proposal is drawn from information on the Vatican bank’s legal status and operations, which was presented to Pope Francis and the council of eight cardinals in February.
The Authority for Financial Information will continue to regulate the Vatican bank, and Cardinal Pell “has confirmed the importance of a sustainable systematic alignment of the legal and regulatory framework of the Holy See/Vatican City State with regulatory international best practice.”
“Strict regulatory supervision and improvements in compliance, transparency and operations initiated in 2012 and substantially accelerated in 2013 are critical for the Institute’s future.”
The press officers of the Vatican bank told CNA April 7 that their priorities are “to finish the screening of customers’ accounts by the beginning of the summer; to work toward a better integration of the Institute with the bodies of the Vatican City State; and to introduce a series of improvements in IOR operations.”
The Vatican bank press officers also stressed that the Pope’s decision “represents for us a great acknowledgement of the importance of our mission at the service of the Church and of the work we have been carrying out in the last 12 months.”
Vatican financial reform was begun in 2009, when the Holy See, under Benedict XVI, signed a monetary agreement with the European Union and issued an anti-money laundering law the following year.
It underwent an evaluation by the Council of Europe's Moneyval committee in 2011, after which it amended and improved its anti-money laundering law. In July 2012 the Vatican received a generally positive evaluation from Moneyval.
Pope Francis has established a committee for financial security, and promulgated a law Oct. 8 establishing a financial system taking into account the peculiarities of the Vatican City State.
Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to weigh in on a case involving a small Christian-owned photography business that declined on religious grounds to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006.
The court announced its decision April 7. It did not give a reason for declining to hear the case.
“Only unjust laws separate what people say from what they believe,” said Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, owners of Elane Photography.
“The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak or not speak on any issue without fear of punishment,” he added in an April 7 statement.
“We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would use this case to affirm this basic constitutional principle; however, the court will likely have several more opportunities to do just that in other cases of ours that are working their way through the court system.”
The case, Elane Photography v. Willock, involves the Huguenins' decision not to photograph a New Mexico same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006, due to their religious convictions that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. At the time, neither same-sex “marriage” nor civil unions were recognized by New Mexico law.
Elaine Huguenin explained to the couple that participating in the ceremony by photographing it would communicate views she did not espouse, but offered to photograph them in other venues.
In the past, Huguenin has declined other photography jobs that she could not reconcile with her religious beliefs, including nude shoots and gory shots to promote a horror movie.
The same-sex couple then found another photographer who charged a lower rate. However, in 2008, they filed a complaint against Elane Photography for “sexual orientation discrimination.”
The case was presented to the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, which ruled in 2009 that the company was guilty of discrimination and must pay nearly $7,000 to the couple.
The Huguenins appealed the case to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling in August 2013. In his concurring decision, Judge Richard C. Bosson acknowledged that the Christian photographers were being “compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives,” but said that this compromise is “part of the glue that holds us together as a nation” and is “the price of citizenship.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case means that the lower court’s ruling will stand.
Religious freedom advocates have voiced concern over what they see as growing hostility toward anyone who defends marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Numerous lawsuits are currently underway challenging the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs through their business decisions.
David Cortman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said that the owners of Elane Photography and many other marriage defenders “have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are not willing to promote any and all messages.”
“A government that forces any American to create a message contrary to her own convictions is a government every American should fear,” he added.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the high court's decision not to hear the case “deeply disturbing.”
“Does our nation's highest court really believe the price of citizenship is the surrender of conscience?” he asked in an April 7 statement.
“The Supreme Court ignored an opportunity to reaffirm the basic principle that the government may not trample on fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion,” Perkins added.
“These rights do not stop at the exit door of your local church, and instead extend to every area of a religious person's life.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Brianna Heldt was 20 years-old when she first started taking the birth control pill. As an Evangelical Protestant, she believed in saving sex for marriage, but the young college student was planning her wedding and wanted to delay having children for a few years.
Like many young women, Heldt visited her college's campus health clinic and got a prescription.
What followed was an unexpected and “horribly difficult” time for Heldt and her husband.
“From the time I began taking it I had severe headaches,” she recounted. “I was constantly bloated and hungry, and worst of all, I became an emotional wreck. Things that would never have bothered me before made me cry uncontrollably. Kevin (my husband) and I had always gotten along so well but we began arguing, and I was perpetually frustrated with him.”
“Intercourse was painful,” she added. “I even saw an OB/GYN about this problem who never once connected those dots for me, and just tried to tell me that it was some sort of psychological problem. But it was not.”
It turns out that Heldt's experience was not unique. This January, 90s talk show host Ricki Lake opted to make a documentary exploring the dangers of hormonal contraceptives.
Based on Holly Grigg-Spall's book, “Sweetening The Pill: or How We Became Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control,” the full-length film will consider the dangers of the birth control pill, as well as other contraceptives such as Yaz and Nuvaring.
“In the 50 years since its release, the pill has become synonymous with women’s liberation and has been thought of as some sort of miracle drug,” said Lake and her co-producer, Abby Epstein. “But now it’s making women sick and so our goal with this film is to wake women up to the unexposed side effects of these powerful medications and the unforeseen consequences of repressing women’s natural cycles.”
Perhaps Lake’s forthcoming documentary will not only “wake women up” but speak for those who have experienced some of the negative side effects of hormonal contraception.
Mara Kofoed – who writes the popular blog, “A Blog About Love,” with her husband Danny – recently wrote a post confessing her loathing of the birth control pill.
“You guys, I hate the birth control pill. I mean, I really, really hate it. I know it's 'supposed' to be liberating to women, but I am convinced this pill is actually harming a lot of women – and therefore society at large including marriages, relationships, friendships, families, and work places,” she wrote on Feb. 26.
The Kofoeds are professed Mormons who have no moral objection to the hormonal contraceptives. Instead, Mara listed a series of side effects she had experienced, including physical symptoms such as “severe, acute pains in my heart,” as well as more general ones like a “lack of intuition & creativity,” and “numbed spirituality.”
Although the responses to Mara's post were mixed, many women shared similar experiences, and one commenter noted her desire to avoid ingesting a substance classified as a group 1 carcinogenic by the World Health Organization, the “same group as asbestos.”
Heldt said the many side effects of the pill were reason enough to quit. “I had begun taking the pill a few months before our wedding to make sure it was working properly by the time I needed it. And only a couple of months after our wedding, I threw the prescription into the trash.”
“I decided I'd rather be a sane, healthy mother than a miserable, insane woman without children. I wasn't sure what we'd use going forward but I knew I couldn't continue with the pill.”
As many women begin to share a desire to avoid hormonal contraceptives, this growing trend has led to a rise in new technologies for “natural” methods of dealing with fertility, both in avoiding and achieving pregnancy.
William and Katherine Sacks, husband and wife co-founders of the new iPhone app, Kindara, recently told Business Insider, “we founded the company because we were looking for effective birth control that wasn't the pill.”
“Kati had been on the pill for 10 years and she didn’t like the side effects. She introduced me to the fertility awareness method and I was blown away by how little I understood about female fertility,” William Sacks explained.
For those who do want to have a baby, Kindara now boasts that it has helped 10,000 women conceive.
The Kindara app is one among many of the latest technologies in offering women an opportunity to know their own fertility.
MyFertilityMD and MyFertilityCycle.com claim to be “tools designed for women by doctors and researches. At the apex of research and technology stands an organic way for women to reclaim their fertility without birth control or dangerous hormones.”
Other app options such as My Fertility Friend and Glow offer “advanced ovulation charts” and “fertility predictors.”
Many years later, Heldt and her husband are the parents of eight children through biology and adoption, noting that becoming parents has “changed our lives in the most beautiful and profound ways.”
Heldt says that now although she knows her cycle, they “don’t use any sort of formal fertility tracking.” She’s glad that more women are now talking about the problems with hormonal contraceptives.
“I've met many ladies who've had negative experiences with the pill just like me, but even if their personal experience wasn’t bad, there is a tension there for sure. Many women sense that there's a problem with the fact that fertility is treated like a disease to be managed.”
“Some are concerned that the pill allows women to be used by men. And we should all be alarmed by the physical dangers inherent in using hormonal contraception, especially over a long period of years – an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and certain types of cancer.”
“There is no doubt that women deserve better choices than the ones we're being handed in our present society.”
Vatican City, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Holy See has released the official motto and logo for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to South Korea, which is the first time a Roman Pontiff has traveled to the country in since John Paul II went 25 years ago.
“Arise! Shine, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you” is the motto, taken from Isaiah 60:1, for Pope Francis’ upcoming Apostolic Voyage to Soth Korea, which will take place August 14 – 18, 2014.
According to an April 8 article published on Vatican Radio, the motto and logo were officially presented to the Holy See by members of the Korean Bishop’s Conference, who are the organizing the trip and are present in Rome this week in order to finalize the most recent details of events to take place.
The logo for the apostolic voyage display two intertwining flames, one red and the other blue, which rise from two light blue waves representing a boat.
Indicating the two Korea’s, the flames wind together in order to emphasize a desire for the reunification of the two nations, Vatican Radio reports, and the blue waves that form the boat hold the shape of knife blades, which is a symbol of the sacrifice the Korean martyrs made for the Church. The waves are blue in order to represent God’s mercy, which is as great as the ocean.
Among the key purposes of Pope Francis’ visit are two main events, the first being to participate in the celebration of the 6th Asian Youth Day, which is being held August 13 – 17 in the diocese of Daejeon.
Expected to gather young Christians from across the continent, the encounter will be celebrated under a motto that echoes the papal trip itself: “Asian Youth! Wake up! The glory of the martyrs shines upon you.”
This motto also draws attention to the second main reason for the papal voyage, which is to preside over the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs, whose causes he approved of in February. Among those slated to be canonized are Paul Yun Ji-chung, the first Korean martyr, and 123 companions who were executed between 1791 and 1888 for the Faith by the Joseon Dynasty.
Pope Francis’ upcoming visit will mark the first time in 25 years that a Pope has visited the Korean peninsula, the last visit occurring when Bl. John Paul II came in Oct. of 1989, following a 1984 trip where he canonized 103 Korean martyrs, including Andrew Kim Tae-gon, the first Korean native priest.
Vatican Radio also reports that Asia contains the world’s fastest growing Catholic community, which has more than doubled in the last century, despite remaining a religious minority.
It is estimated that Catholicism has grown by 70% in Korea over the past decade – who now number more than five million faithful – which is about ten percent of the national population.
Vatican City, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his daily homily Pope Francis focused on how Jesus heals our sin with the Cross, and emphasizing that Christianity is not merely following a written formula, but rather a person who sacrificed for us.
“Christianity is not a philosophical doctrine, it’s not a program for life survival or education, or for peacemaking. These are consequences. Christianity is a person, a person raised on the Cross,” the Pope expressed in his April 8 daily Mass.
Speaking to those gathered in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, the pontiff highlighted how Christianity does not exist without the Cross, because we are not able to free ourselves from sin on our own.
Reflecting on Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees in the Gospel reading, taken from John, when he tells them that “You will die in your sin,” the Pope emphasized that “It is impossible for us to free ourselves from sin on our own. It’s impossible.”
“These doctors of the law, these people who taught the law, didn’t have a clear idea on this,” he noted, observing that “they believed, yes, in the forgiveness of God but considered themselves strong, self-sufficient and that they knew everything.”
In the end “they transformed religion, their adoration of God, into a culture with values, reflections, certain commandments of conduct to be polite” he continued, adding that although they did believe the Lord could pardon them, “they were far removed from all this.”
Explaining how the serpent is the symbol of sin in the Bible, the Roman Pontiff drew attention to how sin was lifted up in the desert during the day’s first reading from Numbers, when God offered to heal his people with a staff in the form of a serpent from the bites of the snakes he sent to afflict them due to their complaints.
This sin was raised, the Pope observed, because it sought salvation and healing, and asked the Lord to be delivered.
Highlighting how Christianity is not merely a “philosophical doctrine” or a “program for life survival,” Pope Francis pointed out that “Christianity is a person,” and is one “who annihilated himself to save us, who became sin.”
“Just as sin was raised up in the desert, here God who was made man and made sin for us was raised up. All our sins were there,” he went on to say.
“You cannot understand Christianity without understanding this profound humiliation of the Son of God who humbled himself and became a servant unto death, even death on a cross, in order to serve us.”
It is for this reason Saint Paul exclaims that we have nothing to boast about other than our sins, the Pope continued, noting that this is our misery, but that through the mercy of God we are able to rejoice in the Crucified Lord.
“The Cross is not an ornament that we must always put in the churches, there on the altar. It is not a symbol that distinguishes us from others,” he stated, clarifying that “the Cross is mystery, the mystery of God who humbles himself, he becomes ‘nothing.’ He becomes sin.”
“Where is your sin?” he asked, noting how many might say “‘I don’t know, I have so many here.’”
“No, your sin is there, in the Cross. Go and find it there, in the wounds of the Lord and your sins will be healed, your wounds will be healed, your sins will be forgiven.”
Concluding his reflections, Pope Francis emphasized that forgiveness which God gives us “is not the same as canceling a debt that we have with Him,” but rather “the forgiveness that God gives us are the wounds of his Son on the Cross, raised up on the Cross.”
“May he draw us toward Him and may we allow ourselves to be healed by him,” he prayed.
Vatican City, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
It was announced April 7 that Pope Francis will say the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday at a residential rehabilitation site for disabled persons in Rome.
According to the Holy See press office, the April 17 Mass will be said at the St. Mary of Providence Centre, which has 150 beds for patients who require rehabilitation because of neuro-motor impairment and which is operated by the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation.
The rehabilitation center is located on the Via Casal del Marmo, near the A90 highway which encircles Rome, and 9 miles northwest of Vatican City.
The Mass will be attended by the center’s guests, who will be accompanied by their families, as well as the center’s staff and managers.
Last year, Pope Francis said the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a Roman prison for juvenile offenders.
Pope Francis will begin Holy Week with the blessing of palms, a procession, and Mass at St. Peter’s.
He will say the Diocese of Rome’s Chrism Mass the morning of Holy Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Liturgy of Good Friday will be celebrated at 5 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by Stations of the Cross at 9:15 p.m. at the Colosseum.
Pope Francis will say the Mass of the Easter Vigil at 8:30 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica.
On Easter Sunday, he will say Mass at St. Peter’s in the morning, after which he will give the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing from the balcony of the square.
On April 27, the Octave Day of Easter, which is also Divine Mercy Sunday, he will say a Mass at St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of his predecessors John Paul II and John XXIII.
Miami, Fla., Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The documentary “Francis: The Pope of the New World” will be shown on the big screen for the first time during the John Paul II International Film Festival, being held April 3-12 in Miami.
Produced by the Knights of Columbus, the documentary recounts the life of Pope Francis from his childhood, including his role in the Church in Argentina and his election as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
“The film brings to life the story few people know – the story of Jorge Bergoglio, who came from humble beginnings and relative obscurity and is now the leader of the Catholic Church,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, one of the documentary’s executive producers.
“It is fitting that the life of Pope Francis be featured at a film festival named in honor of Blessed John Paul II since it was Pope John Paul who named Bergoglio archbishop and cardinal, and it is Pope Francis who will name John Paul II a saint.”
“Both popes continue to be inspirational figures to Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” Anderson added, “and both provide the world, and each of us, with a remarkable witness of living out the Gospel.”
The film will be shown April 12 at 3:15 p.m. at the Paragon Grove 13 Cinema in Coconut Grove. It was primarily filmed on location in Argentina and features interviews with close friends and co-workers of Pope Francis, as well as his biographer and those living in poverty in Buenos Aires.
The documentary begins with the electrifying moment when Pope Francis stands before the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the day of his election. It then takes viewers through both the ordinary and climactic events of his life, tracing his work for those threatened in Argentina’s “Dirty War,” his advocacy for those affected by economic and political turmoil, and the opposition he sometimes encountered from Argentina’s political elites.
The John Paul II International Film Festival was founded in 2009, 10 years after John Paul II, himself a playwright, poet and actor, wrote a letter to the world’s artists to urge them to use their talents to uplift society, to teach and preach human dignity, and to help the people of today to better understand the mysteries of both God and man.
The organizer of the film festival, Miami-based 7eventh Day Media, Inc., is committed to hosting the annual event to give a home to filmmakers who have chosen to use their medium to express and share a message of hope, struggle, triumph, and love with the world.
For those in the Miami area, tickets to the showing of the documentary can be obtained at: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/932440.
A trailer for the documentary and information on how to purchase the DVD can be found at: http://www.popefrancisdocumentary.com/.
Vatican City, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA) -
This coming summer, Pope Francis will make two pastoral visits inside of Italy, following two previous trips to the Italian cities of Assisi and Lampedusa.
In an April 5 announcement, the Holy See revealed that the pontiff has accepted an invitation to visit Calabria and Molise during the months of June and July. Both visits will take place on Saturdays.
The Pope is slated to travel to Cassano all'Jonio June 21, and to Campobasso and Isernia July 5, which confirms a previous statement made by Bishop Nuncio Galantino of Cassano all'Jonio, secretary-general of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which revealed that the pontiff had voiced his intention to visit the nuncio's diocese.
The archdiocese of Campobasso-Boiano, which Pope Francis will also visit, is led by Archbishop Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, who is known for his commitment to fight against organized crime.
Archbishop Bregantini was recently appointed by the Pope to write the meditations for Good Friday's traditional Via Crucis, which is scheduled to take place at the Colosseum the evening of April 18.
Previous pastoral visits the Roman Pontiff has made inside of Italy include a trip to the island of Lampedusa last July to pray for immigrants who died in an attempt to reach the destination, as well as a visit to the small town of Assisi in October to commemorate the feast day of his patron saint.
While in Lampedusa, Pope Francis spoke of the need to “reawaken” our consciences because often times the “culture of comfort” that we live in leads us to ignore the suffering of others.
“In this globalized world,” he expressed in the July 8 visit, “we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”
Asking those present during the Mass who is responsible for the blood of those who have died and noting that many answer immediately “nobody,” or “it’s not me,” the pontiff prayed that all might obtain “the grace to weep over our indifference.”
“To weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this.”
During his Oct. 4 Mass in Assisi last year, Pope Francis reflected that true peace can only be found by drawing closer to the Crucified Lord and by having a relationship with him.
“What is the peace which (Saint) Francis received, experienced and lived, and which he passes on to us? It is the peace of Christ, which is born of the greatest love of all, the love of the cross,” he observed.
Reflecting on how often times people associate peace with the great saint of Assisi, the pontiff urged the Mass participants to go deeper, as few do, into the peace which St. Francis “received, experienced and lived,” which is “the peace of Christ” that comes from “the love of the Cross.”
The Bishop of Rome ended his homily by praying that all might “respect creation” and “not be instruments of destruction!”
“Let us respect each human being,” he insisted, asking that there might be an end to the armed conflicts “which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon and discord to unity.”
New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A federal appeals court has upheld a New York City policy prohibiting religious services in public school buildings, a decision critics said wrongly targets churches for exclusion.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, objected to the April 3 decision, saying that “the First Amendment prohibits New York City from singling out worship services and excluding them from empty school buildings.”
He noted that the buildings are “generally available to all individuals and community groups” for activity related to the community’s welfare. Groups that are religious should not be excluded.
Two of the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overruled a lower court’s finding that the city's education department's policy wrongly restricted the free exercise of religion.
The two appellate judges said the policy seeks to avoid the risk of illegally endorsing a religion.
The dissenting judge noted that among the 50 largest school districts in the U.S., New York City is the only one to exclude religious worship from school facilities.
Small churches in poor neighborhoods have said they are particularly affected by the rule since they rely on the inexpensive space, The New York Times reports.
The Bronx Household of Faith, a small church that describes itself as “community-based,” filed a legal challenge to the rule.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, backed the policy and contended that religious congregations were “dominating” public schools each Sunday.
She said that when a school is “converted to a church in this way” it sends “a powerful message” that the government favors that church.
However, critics say that renting out space to religious groups with the same rules and standards as non-religious groups is in full adherence with the Constitution.
“There is no subsidy of churches here,” Lorence observed. “Churches and religious groups pay the same uniform rates that everyone else does to use the schools.”
The Bronx Household of Faith plans to appeal the decision.
During the long legal dispute, the community has built a church building across the street from the public school it once used in the University Heights neighborhood, Robert Hall, the church’s co-pastor, told The New York Times. However, he said its legal case will continue because it still plans to use the school building and because of the larger legal issue.
The policy allows social, civil and recreational groups to use public school buildings; religious groups may use the buildings, though not for worship services.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, opposes the ban on worship services.
“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access. They play a very, very important role in terms of providing social services and other important community services, and I think they deserve that right.”
Manila, Philippines, Apr 8, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
While disappointed that the country’s Supreme Court has upheld a controversial “reproductive health” law, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines voiced gratitude that the ruling also strengthened parental rights and religious freedom.
“Although the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the RH law, it has truly watered down the RH law and consequently upheld the importance of adhering to an informed religious conscience even among government workers,” said Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
He added in his April 8 statement that the court “stood on the side of the rights of parents to teach their children.”
The archbishop’s comments came in response to a decision by the Supreme Court of the Philippines to strike down portions of the controversial bill, including provisions allowing minors access to birth control without parental consent, requirements that religious healthcare facilities tell non-emergency patients about contraceptive options, and penalties for health care providers who refuse to provide information about contraceptives on the grounds of religious belief, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The court also struck down a portion of the law dealing with its implementation, which had narrowly defined abortifacient contraceptives as drugs which “primarily” induce abortions. Instead, the court determined that the law will recognize even contraceptives with a secondary abortion-inducing effect as abortifacient, and these will all remain illegal, the Philippine Star reports.
The legislation mandates government-sanctioned sex education for adults, middle school and high school students, as well as a population control program that includes fully subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance.
Opponents of the bill warned that it would contribute to a breakdown of the family, foster a contraceptive mentality and increase sexual immorality. They also voiced concerns over the health risks posed by artificial birth control.
Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life for the Philippines’ bishops conference, told CBC News that he saw the court decision as a “partial” victory, but “a major victory nonetheless.”
He particularly praised the strengthening the “independence” of Catholic hospitals and their right of conscientious objection.
However, he lamented that the bill still provides major government funding for contraceptives.
Archbishop Villegas said the Church cannot “see eye to eye” with the bill’s proponents but can work with them “for the good of the country.” He said the Church must “continue to uphold the sacredness of human life” and “safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death.”
He emphasized that the Church must “continue to teach what is right and moral.”
“We will continue to proclaim the beauty and holiness of every human person,” he said. “Through two thousand years, the Church has lived in eras of persecution, authoritarian regimes, wars and revolutions. The Church can continue its mission even with such unjust laws.”
Some opponents of the RH bill were more critical of the decision.
Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, called the decision “a great setback.”
“The real ‘losers’ in this decision are not the pro-life groups or the Catholic Church – which have been demonized throughout the entire debate over this law – but the Filipino people and their life-loving culture,” he said April 8. “It is women and children and the basic institution of the family that will suffer because of the implementation of this law.”
He contended that the bill’s backers used “deceptions” in order to “push through a massive population control agenda that will one day lead to legalized abortion-on-demand in the Philippines.”
“It breaks my heart that this is happening in such a strongly pro-life and Catholic country that has thus far been able to resist legalized abortion,” he said.
Father Boquet insisted that despite the ruling, “we will never lose hope, and will continue to fight the battle to defend life and family in this great country.”
Archbishop Villegas encouraged Catholics to maintain “respect and esteem for the Supreme Court.” He said Catholics should “move on from being an RH-law reactionary group” to become “truly Spirit-empowered disciples of the Gospel of life and love.”
“We have a positive message to proclaim,” he said.