Saturday, February 24, 2007

Termination of MOA

2 February 2007

To: Parish Priests and Family Life workers in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro
From: Abp. Antonio J. Ledesma, S.J.
RE: Termination of MOA between CWL and DOH/POPCOM

At the CBCP general assembly last week, I had a dialogue meeting with bishop-members of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life. They expressed their concerns about the reported Memo of Agreement on Natural Family Planning between the archdiocesan chapter of the Catholic Women’s League and the regional offices of the Department of Health and the Commission on Population. Although ECFL members agreed with the objectives of the MOA, apprehensions were raised about the sincerity of government agencies in promoting solely an NFP program, based on their past record. There were also perceptions publicized in the media that the church was now for “population control” and condoned the use of contraceptives. Similar apprehensions were earlier raised by a number of Family and Life workers in Mindanao.

In order to allay these fears and for the sake of collegialitas affectiva, I have requested the archdiocesan chapter of CWL as well as the regional DOH and POPCOM offices to terminate their MOA by February 15th. In this manner, the archdiocese and church-related organizations will maintain their identity and keep a critical distance from government agencies on matters of family and life.

On the other hand, as was also mentioned during the CBCP deliberations, we should not be afraid to dialogue with government agencies – particularly with regard to their avowed program on responsible parenting and the promotion of only natural family planning. Related to this, I would like to point out three distinctions to clarify issues that were raised at the CBCP plenary assembly. For lack of time, these issues could not be properly discussed by the three resource persons who gave contrasting perspectives on the Standard Days Method as a simplified NFP method.

(1) Our All-NFP program in the archdiocese has the goal of promoting responsible parenthood, not population control. Regardless of how the population growth rate is interpreted, responsible parenthood through NFP is a desirable goal for all couples. This reiterates what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines has stated:

“Christian parents must exercise responsible parenthood. While nurturing a generous attitude towards bringing new human life into the world, they should strive to beget only those children whom they can raise up in a truly human and Christian way. Towards this end, they need to plan their families according to the moral norms taught by the Church.” (Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, CBCP, Manila, 1991, no. 583)

(2) We should distinguish SDM as an NFP method in itself, and SDM as it may be presented by non-church groups. We include SDM in our All-NFP program, without combining it with contraceptives. Other programs by government entities or NGOs may suggest back-up contraceptives with SDM. This is not our program. Indeed, SDM-cum-contraceptives cannot be considered a natural method any more.

From our field experience, we find that many couples prefer a natural method all the way and can handle the twelve-day abstinence period of SDM (which is actually shorter than that of the average cycle in the Basal Body Temperature Method.)

(3) Finally, SDM has been characterized as being unreliable, not scientific, and a return to the old calendar rhythm method. The scientific basis for SDM in terms of computer simulation and the calculation of an average cycle through the science of statistics has to my mind been sufficiently explained by the available literature. But perhaps the most convincing evidence for our NFP promoters is the adoption of SDM by more than 1,300 couples in the Prelature of Ipil over the past five years. From their testimonies, SDM is an NFP method that is simple, reliable, and effective.

In this regard, we should distinguish between effectiveness and the acceptability of various NFP methods. Other NFP methods, when properly followed, may have a higher effectiveness rating than SDM – e.g. 98% vis-a-vis 95%. In terms of acceptability, however, SDM from our field experience is adopted by two-thirds of all NFP-users. Indeed, in terms of acceptability SDM does not have to be contrasted with other NFP methods. Rather we should see it in the larger context that NFP, due to the availability of simplified methods, has now become much more acceptable vis-à-vis artificial contraceptives.

This then is the opportunity and the challenge for all of us in our All-NFP program: to make available information on all modern NFP methods with the concomitant value formation and to reach out to all our kapilya communities through resident providers. With or without the help of government agencies, we shall continue to carry out our ministry and to pursue our goal of promoting responsible parenthood through All-NFP.

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