By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Dangerous tendency of a Dirty Mind: Sex and the Catholic Bishops

“I never forgot it,
confusing as it was
No fun with no
guilt feelings
The sinners,
the savior,
the lover less priests…”

“I confessed my
darkest deeds
to an envious man
My brothers they never
went blind
for what they did
But I may as well have
in the name of the
father, the skeptic
and the son…”

Forgiven, Alanis Morisette (Jagged Little Pill)

The Sex Ed Debate: Deja vous?

It seems we’ve been here before. The Department of Education, the national government agency in charge of setting the standards of education, is up against a gaggle of Catholic Bishops opposing the inclusion of a sex education module in the curriculum of high schools.

In 1999, it was the inclusion of information of HIV AIDS in the high school curriculum that had the Bishops up in arms. Particularly, they protested the mention of condoms in HIV AIDS prevention education.

Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell was greeted by tens of thousands of teenagers when she traveled to the Philippines in June 1999 on behalf of UNFPA and Face to Face Campaign partner in the United Kingdom, Marie Stopes International (MSI). She spoke to young people about the importance of responsible sexual behavior.

Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines delivered the CBCP’s sentiment on the Spice Girl’s visit:

“Sending Halliwell to the Philippines -- where 84 percent of the population is nominally Catholic -- is like "sending Salman Rushdie as an ambassador of goodwill to a Muslim country. We want her to stop campaigning for contraceptives, which ultimately leads to promotion of abortion. We oppose the message that she is bringing."

The Road never traveled: A Brief History of (attempted) Sex.Ed.Policy

At one point, under the auspices of the Population Commission under the framework of “population control,” of the Marcos regime in 1972, a population education program was pursued by the DECS under the Population Education Program (PEP) .

After Martial law and with the transition to “democratic rule” under Corazon Aquino, government, church and other civic groups have increasingly come to influence the content of population education in the school curriculum.

In particular, “values orientation” in human sexuality were included.

In 1997 the existing population education curriculum, Core Messages and Key Concepts of Population Education, was jointly revised by the UNFPA and DECS, taking into account the developments in the International Convention on Population And Development and the Beijing Declaration among others. This supposedly signaled the adoption of the “population and development” themes of the conventions, moving away from the “population control” framework of the 70s.

Yet in a country overview done on the HIV/AIDS Education Program, the issue was raised whether the same modules were ever implemented at all.

“HIV/AIDS is not discussed in this revised curriculum, although it does address issues of gender, sexual orientation, sexually transmissible disease, sexual morality, family formation, and sexual reproduction, all of which have some bearing upon HIV/AIDS education. As with the HIV/AIDS modules discussed above, it is unclear to what extent this revised curriculum has been implemented in schools.”

Since the same report focused on the implementation of the Aids Prevention Act of 1998 and HIV Education, that there is even no specific mention of condoms in the curriculum outline, was identified as a big issue.

Indeed, the position of the Catholic church against condom use is well documented in the Philippines. Early 2003 the CBCP sued the Catholics for Free Choice for running a billboard ad challenging the Catholic Bishop’s position against the use of condoms which read:

""Catholic People Care. Do Our Bishops? Banning Condoms Kills."

As early as 1987, the DECS issued a department bulletin entitled "Information Campaign on AIDS," which included prevention messages and suggested strategies in integrating AIDS prevention concepts into the curricular and co-curricular activities in secondary and tertiary levels.

In an interview in December 1, 2000, then DECS Secretary , Bro.Andrew Gonzalez said the school-based AIDS Educational Project was planned for implementation; however, before it could take off the ground, student demonstrations were held at DECS, denouncing the integration of AIDS prevention in several subject areas.

The Anatomy of a Dirty Mind: When Sex is (almost) always Filthy

Ignorance about sex may be the Catholic Bishops’ preferred strategy for protecting Catholic teen-agers but both history and evidence-based research has consistently shown us that such a strategy has never worked to actually protect young people.

But on matters sexual, a dirty mind is certainly deadlier than a well-informed one.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published a review of 1,050 scientific articles on sex education programs. Researchers found "no support for the contention that sex education encourages sexual experimentation or increased activity. If any effect is observed, almost without exception, it is in the direction of postponed initiation of sexual intercourse and/or effective use of contraception." Failure to provide appropriate and timely information "misses the opportunity of reducing the unwanted outcomes of unintended pregnancy and transmission of STDs, and is, therefore, in the disservice of our youth," according to the report . (Grunseit ,Kippax S. Effects of Sex Education on Young People's Sexual Behavior.Report commissioned by the Youth and General Public Unit, Office of Intervention and Development and Support, Global Program on AIDS, WHO.North Ryde: National Centre for HIV Social Research, Macquarie University)

In a 1997 UNAIDS impact study, 14 of the 15 studies did not indicate that sexual health education leads to earlier initiation or greater sexual activity.

Likewise, the same study cites that all five of the comparison studies across international or national contexts indicated that when and where there was open and liberal policy as well as the provision of sexual health education and related services (e.g. family planning) there were lower pregnancy, birth, abortion, and STD rates. (Impact of HIV and sexual health education on sexual behavior of young people: a review update, United Nations program on HIV/AIDS-1997. Update by Anne
Grunseit of the review by Grunseit& Kippax, WHO/GPA, Geneva, 1993.)

The Catholic opposition to sex education purports to be based around the basic beliefs that 1) A focus on reproductive health will send a message to teenagers that it is alright to engage in pre-marital sex (as long as it is safe); and that 2) Parents should be in charge of their children’s sex education, not the schools.

Indeed, all its pronouncements about parental responsibility, is but an obvious smokescreen for its refusal to deal with sex - that is openly and honestly.

It goes without saying that the Bishops wholly premise their position on Catholic Dogma and teaching that supposes that “procreative heterosexual marital sex” is the exclusively moral and acceptable (and legal) sexual relationship there is.

Likewise, all this disagreement about condoms, contraception, the divide between procreation and pleasure, has not brought us any closer to the heart of the matter: does the church actually even practice the morality it preaches?

I’m not even talking about the dissenting Catholic flock, or priests who have married and left the priesthood, or were kicked out for dissenting but rather the numerous priests and bishops who have committed rape, sexual harassment and continue to sire children even as they publicly attack “Non-Catholic sexual morality.”

As deadly as a dirty mind is, hypocrisy is even more lethal.

Behind the Bishops fears that once given knowledge, our young will carry on (as many of them have) committing rape, and all manner of sexual depravity, is no doubt, a deep distrust of human will and conscience.

Respecting Difference

Yet even if we were to respect religious difference and grant that the Catholic Bishops have every right to totally shun (whether feigned or otherwise) all forms and manner of sexuality and sexual expression, what gives them the right to dictate their religious views above all others in state policy?

In a recent case, the Supreme Court interestingly took what could be considered a courageous step towards protecting the true goal of the Constitutional clauses on religious freedom: that is respecting difference, and protecting the rights of “religious minorities.”

A court employee who faced an administrative charge of “immorality” for living-in with a man (for over 20 years, that is longer than most marriages, civil or otherwise) when both of them had previous subsisting marriages raised the issue of religious freedom. It turned out that as far as the Jehova’s Witness was concerned, the couple fulfilled the requirements of the religion for a valid marriage and thus were considered married in the eyes of the same religion.

In 2003, the Court remanded the case back to the Deputy Court Administrator but on June 22, 2006, the court decided to uphold Soledad Escritor’s defense and finally dismissed the administrative complaint against her.

In this case, the court had occasion to consider the secular character of “public morality,” noting that the clauses on religion in the Constitution “prohibit the state from establishing a religion including the morality it sanctions.”

Moving Morality out of the Box or
Sex, Bishops and Garci Tapes

Thus far, all its posturing on morality has tended to always focus on its version of “sexual morality,” standards of abstinence and celibacy which even its own priests have often violated.

But how else can a group of Bishops hold so much power and influence over state policy if it didn’t have this unity with no less than the President herself who has often spoken against reproductive health policy?

This is why despite the unfolding controversy over purported differences between the CBCP and Malacanang over mining law and the scandal over monetary bribes, what still stands out is the complicity between GMA and the CBCP in railroading all manner of reproductive health programs and policy.

Between its opposition to giving young people information along with helping them acquire life skills in making safe, healthful and most certainly moral choices in life, and its indecision on the issue of rigging an election and using public funds to orchestrate it all, the CBCP is clearly experiencing no less than a moral crisis.


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