Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bishops’ Consensus on NFP and SDM

LAST January 21, 2009, at the end of the bishops’ seminar on peace- building at Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, CBCP President, convened a dialogue meeting on Natural Family Planning and the Standard Days Method. The dialogue was opened to all the bishops. Twenty-nine bishops attended or roughly half of all those who had just finished the peace-building seminar. These included Archbishop Lagdameo and bishop members of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life. Bishop Gabriel Reyes of the Commission on the Laity facilitated the dialogue.

The dialogue group first listened to the impressions of bishops whose dioceses were already including SDM in their NFP program – i.e., Cagayan de Oro, Ipil, Isabela (Basilan), Jolo, Digos, and Cotabato. In general, the bishops did not find anything objectionable with SDM being included as an added option in the local church’s NFP program, except that there may be need for more training and monitoring.

The group then listened to objections and reservations brought up against SDM as an NFP method – e.g., that it was not natural and appeared too mechanical with the use of beads; that the information on the internet included the use of back-up contraceptives; that it was as ineffective as the old calendar rhythm method. The third part of the dialogue consisted of a general discussion and clarifications that led towards the formulation of the consensus statement.

At the CBCP Plenary Assembly three days later on Jan. 24, the consensus statement was included in the report of Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, ECFL Chairman. The consensus statement was drafted and read by Bishop Reyes. This was distributed to all the bishops. The full statement reads:

According to the Analytical Index of CBCP Pronouncements (87th Bishops’ Plenary Assembly, July 2003, page 25), “The Body gave an affirmative indication on the issue whether or not the Standard Days Method (SDM) without any of the contraceptive component and without collaboration with government could be used by a diocese in its program of Natural Family Planning.”

This decision or ruling has never been abrogated.

Basing themselves on this CBCP decision, the bishops during the above-mentioned dialogue, agreed on the following:

1) The Standard Days Method, provided it is not mixed with contraceptives, is a natural family planning method and is consistent with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. The bishop should inform the priest or lay faithful who thinks otherwise and should stop him from spreading his error.

2) It belongs to the bishop to decide whether his diocese will promote or not the SDM, in accordance with his pastoral discernment.

3) The bishop may not prohibit any couple in his diocese from using SDM as their method of natural family planning.

The bishops strongly reminded themselves of the saying:

“In necessariis, unitas; in dubiis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.”

After some discussion on the floor of the plenary assembly, this consensus statement was affirmed and left unchanged by the body. This is now part of the minutes of the CBCP Plenary Assembly.

As I review the consensus statement, three salient points can be noted:

1) Recalling their earlier consensus vote in July 2003, the bishops merely
explicitated their view that SDM in itself, without mixing with contraceptives, is
consistent with the moral teaching of the Church.

2) The statement asserts the responsibility of each bishop to decide whether or
not to include SDM in his diocese’s pastoral program at the present time.

3) On the other hand, it also asserts the right of any couple to adopt SDM as an
NFP method in any diocese.

Pope John XXIII’s statement aptly describes the spirit of the bishops’ dialogue and consensus statement: “In whatever is necessary, unity; in whatever is doubtful, liberty; in everything, charity.”

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