Ateneo Guidon: Fr. James Reuter, SJ clarifies statement vs pro-RH Bill professors

The Guidon, vo. LXXXII no. 1 June 2011

Reuter clarifies statement vs. pro-RH Bill profs

By A.J. M. Santos and Rhett D. Gaerian

If you’re supporting the Reproductive Health Bill, you should not teach in the Ateneo.

Jesuit priest Fr. James Reuter, SJ stirred controversy after making this statement over radiio station DZIQ 990, also known as Radyo Inquirere, last May 17.  Reuter expressed his opposition to the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011, or more commonly known as the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

He also denounced the pro-RH Bill professors who teach in the university.  His statement touched on the 14 Ateneo professors who released a position paper entitled “Catholics can support the RH Bill in good conscience,” which was released in October 2008.  The 14 professors released the paper as their own joint opinion, separate from the university’s official stand.  60 more Ateneo professors later signed a statement of support for the RH Bill.

Ateneo maintains its official stand as being that of the Catholic Church’s,. which is opposed to the RH Bill.

Uphold Catholic Tradition

Reuter said the current bill is unclear on what exactly it supports.  While he admitted that he is no expert on the i on the issue and has not studied the text and fine print, he insisted that a bill that “admits abortion as a moral thing” is wrong.

“Let me make this crystal clear.  When I say RH Bill, I mean it justifies abortion.  If it does not justify abortion, then I’m not against it,” he said.

He added that teachers with opinions contradicting Catholic teachings should not teach in a Catholic school like the Ateneo as they will most likely pass it on to students.  “If they themselves are convinced that abortion is not murder, they should not be allowed to teach.”

But when asked if he wanted concrete actions on the part of the school, he said that it was up to  the administrators’ discretion.  A former teacher himself, Reuter said that he would be wary of hiring a teacher who believes in abortion.  “You have to be sure that you don’t have a teacher in the Catholic [faith] teaching something contradictory to the Catholic Church.  The teachings of the Catholic Church are a body of truth  that is crystal clear and you should not teach something contradicting it.”

Reuter, however, is supportive of the bill’s provision on sex education, as long as it is age-appropriate.

Opinions and Beliefs

In the radio interview, Reuter also said that the freedom of speech-alluding to the 14 professors statement–is not absolute.

Despite his strong reprimand, he clarified that a teacher may believe differently from the Catholic Church, but it should not be presented as a moral truth nor taught to students.  He admitted, however, that that would be a difficult thing to do.  “You teach what you are,” he said.

While he had a definitive stand about the pro-RH bill professors, Reuter said that students with differeing opinions are free to go to the Ateneo.  He said that a teacher could eventually influence a student to think otherwise.  “The Catholic boy or girl going to a Catholic school would build all their opinions on the truths of the Catholic Church.”

More sympathetic opinions

Not all Jesuit priests share the same hard line stance. Lawyer Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ has been more sympathetic towards the RH Bill, although he recognizes the need for more fine-tuning.  A member of the commission  that drafted the 1987 Constitution, Bernas has presented religious pluralism in the country as a reason for passing the bill, even if he sides with the Church teaching on artificial contraception.

He also decried fellow clergymen who preach that support for RH is an automatic sin, but he has expressed opposition to the compulsory nature of the age-appropriate sex education for schools.

In a memo dated March 24, former university president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, said that the university still opposes “the present bill in the light of our Catholic faith.”  He does, however, commend the critical thinking and opinion that the debate on the bill has generated.

“We appreciate the efforts of these members of the ATeneo faculty to grapple with serious social issues and to draw from Catholic moral teaching in their study of the bill,” he said.  “We recognize the right of our faculty, as individuals, to express their views, and appreciate their clear statement that these views are their own and not that of the University.”

On the other hand, another veteran Jesuit, Fr. John J. Carroll, SJ, expressed his disagreement towards other Philippine bishops who are against the RH Bill.  In a commentary written for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Carroll noted that the bill does not legalize contraceptives, since these are already legal and available in durgstores.  He also noted the bill’s categorical opposition to abortion.

Carroll also recommends the further fine-tuning of the bill, particularly on strengthening the ‘conscience clause’, in which health workers and teachers whose religious values conflict with certain aspects of the bill are protected.

Carroll is the namesake of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues, which is located in the Social Development Complex of the University.

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

2 Responses to Ateneo Guidon: Fr. James Reuter, SJ clarifies statement vs pro-RH Bill professors

  1. Expressing an opinion is one thing; going by the Faith of the Church is another. There’s a big problem with too much intelligence and radicalism vis-a-vis witnessing the Faith of the Church; they overlap and tend to confuse the public, much more the lay faithful of the Church. As a Church leader – a bishop, a priest, a Catholic professor or a Catholic school president or official – one must exercise prudence: one must be duty-bound to support and defend the stand of the Church on any position at all cost. If one disagrees or sees some loopholes, the disagreement should be managed discreetly so as not to cause confusion upon others, especially the sheep of the Flock. The unity and communion of all parties in the Church must be foremost in their minds. Should these individual leaders see loopholes, they must study them hard with an attitude of exhausting all reasons in favor first of the Magisterial positions, checking out their very own arguments first. For instance, if I were Fr. Carroll or the faculty in opposition to the RH Bill, I would conduct an academic debate, listening carefully to all pros and cons to the issue. Or Fr. Carroll, S.J., if he’s pretty much convinced about it, should find time with the CBCP on a dialogue because I am sure, the CBCP, on behalf of the Church, is always open to new developments and pursuits as the Church cannot remain in ignorance or advocates of half-truths! Applied to myself, what seems to be the problem with the RH Bill is that some of it are ok, but some of it are not. It’s a hodgepodge of lies and truths, hence, emerging as a half-truth which is altogether a lie. Therefore, the bill should be modified and fine-tuned, and must not be passed until it’s clear and well coherent. For instance, a phrase contained therein goes, “encourages the family to have two to three children”? How can a law be articulated in a verb (‘encourage’) that does not impose? Not surprising why the pro-RH Bill people would invoke this…”encourage lang naman, hindi naman pinipilit!” For heaven’s sake, so why is this going to be a law?

  2. Loopholes of the RH Bill:

    1. The bill mandates the government to “promote, without bias, all effective natural and modern methods of family planning that are medically safe and legal.”

    So, what are these methods that are not medically safe and legal? Are there sanctions? Whose medical view is to be the authority on what’s medically and legally safe or unsafe? According to the anti-RH Bill medical practitioners, the pills work to weaken the uterus from a successful implantation of a fertilized egg. Is this not tantamount to abortion?

    2. Although abortion is recognized as illegal and punishable by law, the bill states that “the government shall ensure that all women needing care for post-abortion complications shall be treated and counseled in a humane, non-judgmental and compassionate manner.”

    This is both ridiculous and cynical! How can a state prohibit abortion and at the same time accommodate it by providing post-abortion counseling and treatment? Needless to say, every citizen suffering from health afflictions must be provided medical treatment and care, rendering the treatment of victims of abortion moot and academic!

    3. The bill calls for a “multi-dimensional approach” integrates a component of family planning and responsible parenthood into all government anti-poverty programs.

    The state is in a denial mode! The problem of poverty cannot be blamed on sex but on elitist economic policies such as heavy taxation on the poor (forced deductions from meager incomes, on basic goods and commodities, etc. vs. VAT where those imposed on big companies are passed on to the buying public, majority of whom are the poor!) This is not to mention yet the irritating and hopeless graft and corruption, stashing huge amounts from the budgets from top (executive) to bottom (barangay levels) through SOPs in every government agency’s financial operations; problem is, every official denies this! So divert attention to sexual perversion and impose the RH Bill, which encourages illicit and polygamous relationships and perversity?

    4. Under the bill, age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education is required from grade five to fourth year high school using “life-skills and other approaches.”

    I don’t have any problem on this as this is okay for as long as children should be taught according to their age maturity.

    5. The bill also mandates the Department of Labor and Employment to guarantee the reproductive health rights of its female employees. Companies with less than 200 workers are required to enter into partnership with health care providers in their area for the delivery of reproductive health services.

    What delivery of reproductive health services? Condoms? Pills? Abortionists?

    6. Employers are obliged to monitor pregnant working employees among their workforce and ensure they are provided paid half-day prenatal medical leaves for each month of the pregnancy period that they are employed.

    This is okay!

    7. The national government and local governments will ensure the availability of reproductive health care services, including family planning and prenatal care.

    What availability of reproductive health care services? Delivery of condoms and pills? Free provision of abortionists? This is as vague as # 5.

    8. Any person or public official who prohibits or restricts the delivery of legal and medically safe reproductive health care services will be meted penalty by imprisonment or a fine.

    Oh, come on, in our justice system, more often than not, it would take years and years for the courts to make a verdict especially when those involved are the powers-that-be! This legal provision, because of its ambiguity, could easily be circumvented by expert lawyers and powerful judges.

    Conclusion: The above is a summary of the RH Bill and my comment to each of the eight. Imagine, only two out of the eight highlights of the RH Bill are okay. This is what the ideologists and those who stand to benefit from the RH Bill, together with Catholic figures who are enjoying popularity from among the misguided radicals are invoking – the only two beautiful apples in the midst of six rotten ones!

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