THE GROUP of some 50 married “priests” that has come out in support of the “reproductive health” or RH Bill does not speak for the clergy, Church leaders said.

The recent statement of the Philippine Federation of Married Catholic Priests (PFMP), carries little value as the group—composed of men who have in fact left the priesthood—is “irregular,” said Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in a phone interview.

The federation has not released an official statement, but the Sun Star newspaper had reported last April 9 that some PFMP members from Bicol and Cebu had announced their support for the bill during the group’s 13th national convention.

Palma said the CBCP remains firm in rejecting the RH bill, which will pour taxpayers’ money on programs promoting contraception and sterilization.

Vicente Abadesco, secretary of PFMP-Visayas, said in a phone interview that the RH bill was not discussed in the recent convention, but was tackled last year.

Abadesco said the source of PFMP’s pro-RH position, the Vatican 2 document Lumen Gentium, is different from the CBCP’s basis, Humanae Vitae. The latter is Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the value of human life that promotes traditional teaching regarding marriage and responsible parenthood. The former document is said to affirm individual conscience in spiritual matters and allow less control of the Church hierarchy over individuals.

“The Church should respect the consent of the couple, whether they want to have natural planning [method] or not,” Abadesco said.

But Fr. Rodel Aligan, O.P., dean of the Faculty of Sacred Theology, said “freedom is not

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doing whatever one wants regardless of whether it is good or bad.”

“True freedom is doing what is good. You cannot invoke your freedom on what is wrong,” he said.

“What authority do they have to talk about these things? Supposedly they are out of the Church. If we follow the teachings of the Church, it would be logical for the Church to give reasons why it is against the RH bill.”

But Abadesco, who maintains that he is a “priest,” said PFMP-Visayas is “both pro-life and pro-choice.”

“We use situation, ethics, and morals. It is not for the Church to impose [rules on] matters [outside] their expertise. It is the expertise of professional doctors. The basic question is when does life really start? Who is to determine it, bishops or doctors?” he said in a text message sent to the Varsitarian.

Abadesco also said the federation supports the distribution of contraceptives by the Department of Health (DOH) and sex education for Grade 5 pupils.

“The point of view of the church, of CBCP, is moral; it is not scientific, and it doesn’t say [what is] legal or illegal,” Abadesco said.

The group was formed in 1972, and has a membership of about 500 couples. Rafael Triunfante, one of its pioneer members, said in an article published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on October 13, 2008 that the Church has isolated the federation and is not open to dialogues on the bill.

Right to practice?

Members of the federation want to be able to perform priestly functions like celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, although this is prohibited by Church law.

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Abadesco claimed married priests should still be in the ministry, saying they only left the hierarchy but “are still priests.”

Abadesco argued that celibacy should be optional. For Aligan, however, celibacy is integral to the priesthood.

“Celibacy has something to do with the work that you do. You fully dedicate yourself to a task. For a religious priest, it’s a kind of witnessing,” Aligan said. “And witnessing is what you witness today for what will happen later. Celibacy is a witness for the next life to come.”

Palma said priests who have left the ministry to get married are “out of the rules of priesthood.”

“The fact that they are married means they don’t want to be priests,” Palma said.

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