Sanctity of life and of marriage

IF THERE is one issue in which the hierarchical Church is solidly united, and in which all our Catholic bishops are unanimous in upholding and defending, it is the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage, which together compliments the sanctity of the family. This explains why the Church passionately opposes the Reproductive Health Bill and the divorce bill pending in Congress, and why it is extra sensitive to President Noynoy Aquino’s pronouncements on these sanctities.

Sanctity of life. The basic Catholic theology on the sanctity of life is found in “Humanae Vitae” (Of Human Life), an encyclical of Pope Paul VI (July 25, 1968) condemning abortion and prohibiting artificial contraception. In his message celebrating the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI admitted that this teaching has become controversial in light of present scientific and economic realities but insisted that it was a truth nonetheless, saying, “What was true yesterday is still true today.”

To be sure, our 1987 Constitution outlaws abortion, commanding that the “State… shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” Decades earlier, the Penal Code had already criminalized infanticide (killing of an infant less than three days old) and abortion (killing of a fetus in the uterus or its expulsion from the womb resulting in death).

Other countries are still debating the beginning of life to determine when a “killing” can be deemed an abortion. Does life begin at the union of the egg and the sperm? Or is it merely when the fetus is capable of independent life outside the womb? Or is it only at the cutting of the umbilical cord at birth? In contrast, our Constitution settled that issue, saying that the unborn shall be protected “from conception”; that is, from the fertilization of the human egg by the human sperm.

The burning issue being waged by the Church is no longer the beginning of life at conception, but way before that – the prevention by any artificial means of the union of the egg and the sperm. Thus, the Church prohibits the use of medicines, devices and procedures that artificially stop the released human sperms from uniting with the human egg, including condoms, IUDs, diaphragms, ligation, vasectomy and “pills.”

Sanctity of marriage. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Upon this oft-quoted biblical command rests the Catholic dogma of marital indissolubility. Thus, to the Church, no human institution, including the state, can dissolve a valid marriage. Our Civil Code and, later, our 1988 Family Code echo this inviolability by defining marriage as a “permanent union” and an “inviolable social institution.”

Nonetheless, the Church recognizes the nullity of a Catholic marriage when one or both partners suffered from “psychological incapacity” at its inception. Canon 1095 states: “Those who are unable to assume the essential obligations of a marriage due to causes of a psychological nature [are] incapable of contracting marriage.”

The Church requires that the psychological incapacity must be (1) grave, (2) incurable and (3) antecedent, that is, it must have existed at the time of the marriage, and was not acquired only after it had been celebrated. A party who was psychologically incapacitated at the time the rites were held does not contract a valid marriage from the very beginning.

Canon 1095 was substantially adopted as Article 36 of our Family Code, thus: “A marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”

The early Supreme Court decisions beginning with Santos vs Court of Appeals (Jan. 4, 1995, per Justice Jose C. Vitug) closely hued to the three Church requirements. Republic vs Molina (Feb. 13, 1997, which I penned) instituted eight guidelines to assist parties in availing of psychological incapacity. However, later jurisprudence (discussed in my column last Feb. 21) tended to stray from these early decisions and became “more liberal.”

Responding to critics, the Supreme Court’s latest decision (Suazo vs Suazo, Mar. 10, 2010, per Justice Arturo D. Brion) deftly clarified that the early jurisprudence (Santos and Molina) have not been abandoned and are still good case law.

Rankling the Church is the divorce bill of Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan proposing “psychological incapacity” (along with “de facto” separation for five years, irreconcilable differences, etc.) as a ground. Theologically untenable is the bill’s proposal that psychological incapacity need not be “antecedent”; it may arise after the rite of marriage, thereby infringing its inviolability.

In sum, I hope P-Noy and the Church can avoid a grisly confrontation. After all, Benedict XVI—in his address before the British Parliament last Sept. 21—advocated “ongoing dialogue” between “the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief.”

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New SC official. Congratulations to Enriqueta Esguerra-Vidal for having been named the new clerk of Court of the Supreme Court vice Marissa D. Villarama. Baby Vidal personifies the ideal court employee – discreet, competent, courteous, loyal and hard working. Although she carries the modest title of “clerk,” she enjoys the rank of a Court of Appeals justice and performs the work of a general manager.

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