By RICARDO J. CARDINAL VIDAL
Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu and HLI Foreign Advisor
Your Excellency, Archbishop Jose Palma,
My Brother Bishops,
My Brother Priests,
My dear Dames of the Order of St. Sylvester,
My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has honored us once again with the conferment of the Ecclesiastical award Dame of the Order of St. Sylvester to nine illustrious Cebuanas, distinguished by their works of charity and long service to the Church.
As I congratulate you, Dames Anita Cabinian, Julia Gandionco, Rosa Maria Garcia, Conchita Go, Lourdes Jereza, Lourdes Vilma Lee, Anita Sanchez, Alita Solon and Mariquita Yeung, I also thank you for the work you have done for the Church and for the underprivileged. Through your apostolates, you have given the Church in Cebu a heart that truly cares for the poor.
There are many who profess to take the cudgels for the poor nowadays. They say they empower the poor by giving them control over their lives. Yet, instead of providing them basic medicine, they gave them contraceptive pills that can cause cancer. Instead of curbing corruption so that basic services may reach the poorest of the poor, they focus on pushing a bill that has been rejected so many times before, as if it is the only bill that really matters for all Filipinos.
It is difficult to be Catholic nowadays. To profess the Catholic faith nowadays, in its integral fullness, is to be labeled “medieval”, “outmoded”, “bigoted.” We are the ones given all kinds of names, yet we are also accused of name-calling.
We are challenged to argue our case with sobriety and intelligence, yet, no matter how you explain the matter comprehensively, only sound bites, taken out of context, many times portraying the Church in a bad light, see print or is carried on television. Sometimes one wonders whether the media are deaf, blind or simply biased.
We have said it before, and will say it again, contraception is immoral, and no one has the option to be immoral, whether you are rich or poor. They would argue that contraception is immoral only for Catholics, and many Catholics do not even think it immoral. Reducing morality to a matter of faith or personal opinion is precisely what the Church is warning against. If today they say everyone must be given freedom of choice, and the object of the choice is contraception, tomorrow they will say everyone must be given freedom of choice, but the object of the choice would be abortion, homosexual marriage, divorce or euthanasia. You may say it is far-fetched, that contraception is far less serious a sin than the ones I have mentioned. But the logic by which contraception is pushed is the same logic by which all the others are proposed: the key words are “freedom of choice” and “moral relativism.” The argument goes as follows: because we cannot agree on what is moral or not, we might as well allow everything and anything. After all, everyone must have freedom of choice.
It is true, the RH Bill prohibits abortion today, but the language of the bill already prepares the way for abortion to be legalized. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current US Secretary of State and former First Lady was quoted as saying thus: “… If we’re talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.” (end of quote) Do you really think they will stop at contraception?
Morality is the limit of freedom. Or rather, morality is the perfection of freedom. We become more free by moral choices. We become less free by immoral decisions. Some say we Bishops do not listen, that we are narrow-minded and are concerned only of preserving our power at the expense of those who wallow in poverty. I say we listen first and foremost to the Chief Shepherd, for we are not the vine, we are only the branches. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.
Some say we should listen to what the people say. “Vox populi, vox dei.” I say, if such is the case, then Moses should have listened to the Israelites who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt, and Barabbas should have been hailed Messiah instead of Jesus, for the crowd preferred that rebel over our blessed Lord.
So, after all is said and done, when the dust of this battle settles, will the poor have hope for the future? Let us not use the name of the poor in vain. If you really cared for the poor, you would have crafted laws to bring down the cost of medicine and basic necessities. You would have liberalized restrictions to attract more investments, clamp down on corruption to encourage investors, focused on building homes and schools and infrastructure to shelter and educate and promote development. Instead, the nation’s energy is wasted on a bill that, in its positive aspects, is already in place, but only needs implementation.
Some argue we are just too many, our meager resources are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people to house, to educate, to hire, to feed. They conveniently forget that the Marcos years saw the most aggressive population program in our nation’s history. It did not bring us anywhere, for unless we root out corruption from our system, we will always have meager resources, whether we are only 40 or a hundred million.
I would like to apologize to our awardees if I used this occasion to engage in polemic over an issue that has no bearing on today’s festive occasion. But does it not have any bearing at all? Is not the essence of this award the catholic character of your work?
I chose to speak on this subject today because of its urgency. I chose to speak on this topic on this occasion because as Catholics awarded for loyalty and devotion, you need to understand what you believe, so that in understanding, your faith may grow ever stronger, your devotion ever more fervent, your work to help the poor and support the Church ever more zealous.
May the Lord bless you and your families. May the Lord bless our nation and enlighten our leaders. Amen.