“He is not saying that what the Church deemed before as wrong is now right. He is merely telling us to be more compassionate,” Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Jose Palma said in reaction to the recent papal statement.
“He won’t be saying contraceptives, and even abortion, are now okay. No! Do not expect that to happen,” Archbishop Palma said in comments made Monday.
In an interview published last week, the Argentine pontiff urged a break with the Church’s harsh “obsession” with divorce, gays, contraception and abortion.
Philippine Church leaders have led a decade-long campaign against a birth control law that required the state to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, and provide post-abortion medical care.
The Supreme Court suspended the law in March so that judges could hear formal petitions from a range of Church-backed groups arguing that it was unconstitutional.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the vice president of the bishops’ group, said: “He (the pope) did not rebuff the strong opposition to contraception, abortion or homosexual marriage. He just set it on proper grounding.”
The transcripts of Palma’s and Villegas’ comments were made available by the bishops’ organisation to AFP on Tuesday.
Edcel Lagman, a former legislator who wrote the birth control law, told AFP the pope’s comments had put the Filipino Church leaders on the defensive, saying they belonged to its “ultra-conservative wing”.
“I think they will have to reconcile their doctrines and make themselves attuned to the liberal thinking of the new pope. There is no way to go but to follow the pope,” he said.
Lagman said the Filipino Church’s conservative activism was rooted in its key role converting locals to Christianity as part of the Asian islands’ 17th-century colonisation by Spain.
“The Church feels it should meddle in the affairs of the State,” he added.