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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reforming the Reformers: Sexists, Spinners and other “Sinners" - Deconstructing the "Jesuit Talking Points" on the RH Bill

By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria*

“ A pure and simple faith is as distinct from fanaticism as the flame from smoke or music from discords: only the fools and the deaf confuse them. Between ourselves we can say that the idea of purgatory is good, holy, and rational. It perpetuates the union of those who were and those who are, leading thus to greater purity of life. The evil is in its abuse.

Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, 1887


Unbeknown to most atheists, secularists and heathens of the University of the Philippines, in 2008, individual faculty members of the Ateneo de Manila University made Philippine history by openly supporting the Reproductive Health Bill while at the same time drawing from Catholic Social teaching to support their position. This kind of position from within Catholicism has been called in some circles as “Loyal Dissent,” after the famous (or infamous, depending on your Catholic orientation) work of Father Charles E. Curran.[i] The fact, however, that the Ateneo Faculty were able to issue a public dissent, without loss of tenure (and arguably fear of the same), is also no small matter in Catholic academia. Scores of Catholic academics (most of them Clerics) have lost their teaching positions in Catholic universities for expressing dissent to Catholic teaching.

This essay, however, is not about the independent position of the “Ateneo 14”[ii] but rather about a more recent document issued by two Jesuit institutions, the Loyola School of Theology and the John J. Carol Institute on Church and Social Issues. The three-page document called “Talking Points for Dialogue on the Reproductive Health Bill,” was co-authored by Father Joaquin Bernas, Father James J. Caroll, and Father Eric O. Genilo and issued over two years after the faculty’s dissenting position. And while it may be tempting to assume that the dissenting individual professors and these Jesuit theologians are cut from the same (Ignatian) cloth, it is worth noting substantive differences between these positions. Who is invited to this dialogue? What are the Jesuits willing to exchange ideas on? And what is it exactly that Jesuits (and the Catholic Church) are willing to compromise on? This essay analyzes the “Jesuit Talking Points” in the historical context of Catholic Reformation, official Catholic teaching on sex as well as the more recent phenomenon of Catholic dissent in the Philippines. I argue that by refusing to recognize women as individuals with rights and insisting on the authority of religious hierarchies to speak for their members – all the while using the terminology of freedom and liberty – the Jesuit call for dialogue courts not only criticism of sexism but the equally deadly “sin” of spinning.

It is worth noting that while not supported by the Jesuit University, (this much has been clarified over and over again publicly), the “toleration” of dissent within its ranks also tends to enhance the Jesuit reputation for a tradition of independent thinking. In short, it makes them “cool” as Catholics and also respectable intellectuals. This reputation is not without its basis. (There indeed are a lot of cool true blue Atenean intellectuals and we are proud to have one of them in our own faculty at the UP College of Law) On the other hand, this idea of “Jesuit independence” also has deeper historical roots.

Ignatius Loyola: Soldier, Saint or Spin Doctor?

The Society of Jesus has a checkered past and its founder, Ignatius Loyola (Ignacio) is both worshipped and vilified in various historic accounts. A soldier and Basque nobleman, Ignacio Loyola worked closely with Francis Xavier and Diego Lainez who later led the order’s international missionary work.

All church scholars note the critical role played by Ignatius Loyola and the Society of Jesus in the Counter-Reformation (Catholic Reformation). At a time when it seemed like that the Lutheran led Protestant Reformation would all but destroy Roman Catholic dominance, the Jesuits were able to stem the tide in part by playing a kind of maverick role in the Catholic Church. The strength and rallying call of the Reformation were the abuses of power by the Catholic Church, particularly its clergy (most of all Bishops and Popes). By positioning themselves outside of the authority of local Bishops but at the same time professing loyalty to Papal authority, the Jesuits were able to call for reforms from within the Catholic Church. In substance, some of the reforms by the Jesuits echoed the humanist appeals by Luther but scholars note that their appeals were more emotional. Where the Protestants highlighted “predestination” the Jesuits countered with hope and forgiveness. (Kreis: 2002) Of course this partial account of church history does not focus on the myriad of other strategies undertaken in the “Catholic Reformation” to win back Protestant converts and retain territories. The clash was anything but a non-violent propaganda war.

And while they pledged loyalty and allegiance to the Pope, the Jesuits did not really always have positive Papal relations. While a number of their detractors were Protestants, many of them were also Catholics who accused the Jesuits of arrogance.

John O’Malley notes:

“The Jesuits were only one of a number of new religious orders of men and women founded in the early modern period, but by reason of their size, the influence of their schools and other ministries, their missionary activity, and their ventures into almost every aspect of culture they are the best known and the most controversial. Until recently the historiography of the order fell into two rather distinct camps, refelcetd in the ambiguity of the word Jesuita itself: the first depicted the Jesuits as exemplary followers of Jesus, as saints and savants, the second as the religious hypocrites Jesuita sometimes implied; almost all European languages have the equivalent of “Jesuitical” to mean crafty and devious.” (O’Malley: 2004)

Papal hostility, and possibly insecurity towards the Jesuits culminated in the issuance of the Papal Bull, Dominus ac Redemptor noster by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, ordering the suppression the Society of Jesus. Pope Pius VII eventually reversed the order of suppression through the issuance of the Solicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum in 1884. The restoration of the order, however, did not necessarily signal the end of controversy for the Jesuits or its clashes with the Vatican hierarchy.

In contemporary church history, the Society of Jesus also caused a stir in the late 60s under the leadership of Father Pedro Arrupe y Gondra the 27th Father General of the Jesuits. Under his leadership, the Society of Jesus began integrating the notion of “class struggle” into Catholic teaching, particularly making use of a 1968 Catholic Bishops Conference document that mentioned a goal of “exercising a preferential option for the poor.” (Martin: 1987) Indeed the popularity of Liberation Theology in Central America in the 1970s-1980s owed much to the Jesuits who not only participated in guerilla training but also reportedly at times became guerilla fighters themselves. This take on Marxism of course did not sit well with Pope John Paul II who had his own experience of the excesses of state backed communism in Poland. Indeed so much has been published about the paradoxical reputation of Jesuits within the Catholic Church that portrays them as either heroic or at times even demonic. (Such publications are a regular cottage industry in Catholic publication. Let’s just say that Dan Brown’s stuff is no match for the cloak and dagger tales about Jesuits and give Mario Puzzo’s Godfather III a run for its money.)

The point of course is to illustrate how despite its enduring reputation and posturing as a monolithic institution, the Jesuits, like most Catholics, are also as diverse in their Catholicism as the rest of us.

The “Jesuit Talking Points on RH” is a short document divided roughly into six sections specifying six issues:

•When Life begins (Debating the Constitution)


•Sex Education

•Religious Pluralism (or a version thereof)

•Conscientious Objection (or a version thereof)

•Freedom of Speech (Whose freedom/Whose Speech?)

The first two, the issue of when life begins and contraception are of course intertwined in Catholic teaching and based largely on the Humanae Vitae (1968) and other supporting declarations and issuances such as the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1976). The Humanae Vitae (1968) basically condemned artificial contraception. The official teaching rests on the following view:

The innate purpose of the sexual faculty is twofold: procreative love and union and that every sexual act must be open to procreation, and must be expressive of love -- hence the condemnation of homosexual sexual acts, masturbation, contraception and sterilization. (Curran: 1987)

Note, however, that by acknowledging the difference between the Catholic church position on contraception/human conception and the legal meaning of the 1987 Constitutional provision as it stands, the Jesuit document strategically distances itself from the otherwise uncouth and unscholarly positions of other conservative Catholics that up until this time, have categorically argued that the Constitutional meaning of the provision on “protecting the unborn from conception” has already been fixed and that it means fertilization. The key move here to take heed of is the “distancing” approach that is employed.

The same section also includes a claim that “the Constitutional Convention seemed to favour fertilization.” This claim is not only debatable but is actually easily demonstrated as bereft of basis, as every good law student knows, by reading the Journal of deliberations to the 1987 Constitutional Convention. On the other hand, the way the claim is articulated also reflects a sense of “good faith” in presenting its differing take on the Con Com debates because unlike the usual rabid Pro-Lifers who specialize in immutable claims, the Jesuit choice of words here includes a diplomatically deployed “seems.”

Hence the Jesuit’s “critical” position is achieved in two moves: distance and diplomacy laying down the epistemological trap of “science” and “law” ever more subtly with much more sophisticated slight of hand.

Without much explanation, the same section of the talking points introduces the crafting of “legal definitions” and collaboration between scientists and lawyers is offered as a way out of the dilemma.

It may be argued of course that this public discussion can use huge doses of science once and for all. It will certainly be a welcome change to the discourse of “sex as sin” that has so far pervaded the Filipino public discussions on human sexuality, reproduction and reproductive technologies. I have no argument with this point but I do have issues with how it pulls the democratic rug from under our feet --- in other words, I wish to question the theory and hierarchy of knowledge and power that such a call is based on.

First of all the recourse to “legalese” and fixed definitions on this matter was precisely something that the Constitutional Commission avoided. Con Com knew then as most of us know now that the “science” behind when life begins is inconclusive. The debate on what “life” constitutes not only involves embryos in utero but also covers the debate on euthanasia and brain death (a very familiar law school experience). And even if contraceptives were classified according to their mechanisms of action (whether preventing ovulation or implantation of the fertilized ovum), as the Jesuit document itself acknowledges, different faiths have differing views on what constitutes “abortion” in this case.

Yet the epistemological stakes I wish to lay bare here are deeper and certainly not a monopoly of the Jesuits. The trouble with “trusting science” to tell us what sex is and what it means is a problem which feminism has faced in various incarnations. Socio-biology and its more rabidly evolutionist/determinist tenets which to this date preach immutable sexual characteristics, identities and orientations into the binary of “male” and “female” is neither an exclusively Catholic proclivity nor a Jesuit invention.

Father Charles Curran notes that the Vatican’s Declaration on Sexual Ethics reduces sexuality to the physical act, if not exclusively in the light of the physical structure of the sexual act itself. (In other words, penile penetration) (Curran: 1978) And while it couches the discussion of exclusively procreative sexual acts within the context of “marital love and union,” the Humanae Vitae also banishes all other sexual acts as immoral and “unnatural.” Indeed Science (like law) may be invoked in more ways than one.

By narrowing down the way the debate is framed to “science/law,” the Jesuits document simply does as the Vatican has since Humanae Vitae – that is confine the discussion of sexual morality to the level of the physical act with little room for the relational, psychological and transcendent aspects of human sexuality. (Curran: 1978)

What would a legal definition of a something science cannot even categorically pinpoint (moment of fertilization) achieve? Who does it serve? Who will it harm the most? I can give you a clue: the people who get pregnant.

Another aspect of the document that is the subject of this critique is its notion or version of the principle of “Religious Freedom.” In many secular jurisdictions albeit with a myriad of permutations, the legal guarantee of religious freedom is composed of free exercise and non-establishment. Some secular states emphasize religious pluralism more than others who may be more concerned with keeping dominant religions out of state affairs and coffers.

In very recent history a new interpretation of “conscientious objection,” a term which originated in the context of dissenters of the war draft, has been parlayed around discussions in relation to claims of religious freedom by anti-choice health service workers and professionals. The Jesuit document builds on this discussion by extending a Catholic “conscience” to institutions and various Catholic individuals/professionals in charge of the care/custody and education of others (who may not be Catholic or subscribe to the Catholic teaching, which is, after all, not dogma) – And because this matter concerns the use of reproductive technologies, specifically contraception, these conscientious objectors are likely to discriminate and impose their beliefs on mostly women’s and girls’ bodies.

–Catholic Schools

–Catholic Educators

–Catholic Parents

–Catholic Hospitals

–Catholic Employers

–Catholic Health Service Providers

The problem with this version of the notion of “conscientious objection” is that it uses religious freedom in the service of religious imposition or the violation of the freedom of others. In its various versions as a draft piece of legislation, the new terminology of “conscience” is not only legally problematic but also ethically so. Elsewhere I noted that While there is no doubt that the same Constitutional principles give ample protection to health professionals in their own personal exercise of their faith, past proposed Bills was premised on a narrow definition of free exercise as "non-participation," and not inclusive nor supportive of the democratic ideal of protecting a plurality of faiths. Likewise, it over extends a concept of "conscience" to corporations such as clinics, hospitals and Insurance companies, dangerously pitting the individual with collectives including corporations.

But can’t a medical or health professional also claim that to opt to participate in a medical procedure sorely needed and requested by a patient is also an act of conscience? In case of conflict, whose conscience in such cases will get protection?

This reduction of conscience to blind obedience (to Catholic teaching) robs “conscience” of its rich and deep philosophical import in moral theology and philosophy. In fact this legalistic approach to moral reasoning has been the subject of critique within Catholic theology as well as within the broader Christian Philosophical traditions. Father Charles Curran’s critique of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1976) is one such example.


Rather than end with a scathing criticism of the Jesuits and their cleverly worded discussion points, I would rather leave things on an open-ended note and ask whether there is still a possibility for what the Jesuits themselves termed as “critical and constructive engagement.” On one hand, the Catholic hierarchy is no longer in a position to call the shots. Their ally is now only a Congresswoman (albeit a pesky one to be sure) and no less than the current President, himself from a strong Catholic family, has openly criticized their narrow-mindedness on matters of reproductive health. Of course this is not to say that just because the tables have somehow turned, the Jesuits and the Bishops no longer deserve our attention although they certainly deserve less of it now. (Just this morning the RH Bill’s third Committee hearing ended. This lecture was the official announcement about that).

On the other hand, the public and the marginalized others (mostly women and other sinners of non-traditional genders and orientations who more often than not are the Jesuits’ very own “poor”) deserve an intelligent public discussion, which will no longer be monopolized by robed men who are not supposed to have a sex life anyway (despite evidence to the contrary).

Besides this opposition to something as prosaic as basic health care ought not to be the focus of Catholic-inspired panics on sexual morality – I don’t know about you but I’m more worried about the clerical sexual abuse of women and minors past and present.

Michael Higgins, author of the book, Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Enquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal recently wrote that we need a new Catholic Reformation:

“Damage control, legal gamesmanship, moral posturing and institutional denial won’t work…To put the horror behind them, Catholics must do more than lament their Church. They must reform it.”

So in good conscience I challenge the Jesuits (especially the left leaning ones and legal savvy ones) to face the music once and for all and deal to with the sexism, which plagues the institutional church. They are already in good company if they do. Father Karl Rhaner, S.J. in his last book, Unity of the Churches: A Actual Possibility (1984), already laid down some specific proposals among them rethinking/reconsidering papal infallibility and dogma. Now that is one Jesuit body of work worth revisiting.


John J. Caroll, Joaquin Bernas and Eric O. Genilo, Talking Points for Dialogue on the Reproductive Health Bill (HB 96; filed July 1, 2010)

Romanus Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology, The Catholic University of America Press, (Washington: 2001)

Charles E. Curran, Sexual Ethics: A Critique, Issues in Sexual and Medical Ethics, University of Notre Dame Press, (London: 1978)

_________________Roman Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Dissenting View, Religion Online, Ted Brock and Winnie Brock (Eds), []

Catholics Can Support the Bill in Good Conscience, Position Paper on the Reproductive Health Bill, Individual Faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, October 15, 2008.

Michael Higgins, “We Need a New Catholic Reformation,” The Globe and Mail, 9 December 2010

John O’ Malley, “The Society of Jesus,” A Companion to the Reformation World, Blackwell Publishing, R. Po-Chia Hsia, (ed), 2004

Malachi Martin, “The Jesuits,” The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, Linden Press, Simon & Schuster, (New York: 1987).

David Mitchell, The Jesuits: A History, Macdonald Futura Publication, (London: 1980)

R. Po-Chia Hsia, (ed), A Companion to the Reformation World, Blackwell Publishing, 2004

Thomas F. Schinder, Ethics: The Social Dimension: Individualism and the Catholic Tradition, Theology and Life Series Vol. 27, Michael Glazier, (Delaware: 1989)

* Senior Lecturer, College of Law, University of the Philippines and SJD Candidate/Women’s Rights Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. This Lecture was prepared for the University of the Philippines College of Law, Legal Perspectives Lectures Series No. 8, 1st Semester, AY 2010-2011. This very rough version contains most of the actual references and “humour” I used for the talk but not all of them. Some of them were perhaps too UPLAW oriented to be of any use to other audiences interested in this paper. I want to express my deepest gratitude to Leloy Claudio, Doctoral Candidate of History from the University of Melbourne and in a former life, a True Blue Atenean, for being my panelist/discussant during the forum.

[i] Charles E. Curran, A Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian, Georgetown University Press, 2006.

[ii] To date there have been additional signatories to the Position Paper from the Ateneo Faculty bringing the total to about 66 in late 2008. Students of Ateneo have also backed their Faculty’s position. The original fourteen faculty members who signed the Position Paper were: Marita Castro Guevara (Department of Interdisciplinary Studies), Raymond B. Aguas (Department of Theology),Liane Peña Alampay (Department of Psychology), Fernando T. Aldaba (Department of Economics), Remmon E.Barbaza (Department of Philosophy), Manuel B. Dy, Jr. (Department of Philosophy), Elizabeth Uy Eviota (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Roberto O. Guevara (Department of Theology), Anne Marie A. Karaos (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Michael J. Liberatore (Department of Theology), Liza L. Lim (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Cristina Jayme Montiel (Department of Psychology), Mary Racelis (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), and Agustin Martin G. Rodriguez (Department of Philosophy)


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