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Voice of the people is the voice of the Church


The fight for the hearts and minds of the people may have become a bit of a cliché in today’s political world, but it is not a bad description of the year-long battle that the Church in Asia’s only majority Catholic country has been involved in as it unsuccessfully pitted itself against the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino.

Although various Catholic organisations have filed motions in the Supreme Court in Manila against the constitutionality of the bill, the political showdown was lost in mid-December when both houses of congress voted overwhelmingly in favour of it.

The bishops had opposed the bill through massive demonstrations in the streets, saying that it promotes abortion and will undermine the social stability of family life in society.

While much discussion has centred on how the result reflects the loss of the traditional control the Church has exercised over Philippine politics, maybe the real question is whether the political arena is the appropriate place for the Church to fight its battles to capture the hearts and minds of the people.

Cooler heads have pointed out that the middle class controlled Philippine Church lost out through its failure to do the hard yards among the country’s massive underclass, as well as coming up short in its primary area of operation; pastoral care, education and catechesis.

Seemingly harsh words, but conversion to new ways of thinking seems to come through experience rather than an avalanche of political slogans, calls for loyalty and abstract ideas, no matter how well academically founded.

The Church in almost every country of the world has lost the political battle against legislation on both contraception and abortion.

While Catholic politicians in the United States of America have often been at loggerheads with some bishops over their public stance on abortion legislation, some have also argued that the halls of congress are not the places to vent opposition in a pluralistic society.

Rather, they say that legislation will only change as the attitudes of the people change, and this will not happen in the number-crunching environment of a parliamentary vote.

After decades of legalised abortion, opinion polls in the US are now showing a radical increase in those calling for more restrictions on the practice and in past months, a significant number of states have enacted abortion restrictive legislation.

“After witnessing the effects of abortion for the past 40 years, Americans are not politically or morally comfortable with the outcome,” Karl Anderson, from the Knights of Columbus, said at the beginning of this year, commenting on a survey showing that six out of 10 people now think abortion is morally wrong and over 83 per cent believe it should be significantly restricted.

While the rhetoric on family life and marriage coming from the Church in Manila may enshrine noble and undisputable values, it is doubtful that these words ring true with the experience of the majority of the population.

The lesson for the Church in both the Philippine and the American experience may be that the power of the message of the gospel is realised in the day-to-day life experience of the people and not the political arena.

It is the word of the people of God speaking from their life experience that is a powerful voice in society. JiM