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PHILIPPINES Church-Government Collaboration On Family Planning Aborted
February 16, 2007 | PM01965.1432 | 766 words Text size
MATI, Philippines (UCAN) -- A southern Philippine archbishop is canceling an agreement he "encouraged" between a Church
women's group and government officials on natural family planning, but which other bishops have opposed.
The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed Dec. 19 by Flor Pabelic, president of the Catholic Women's League
(CWL) of Cagayan de Oro archdiocese, and regional heads of the government's Population Commission (POPCOM) and
Department of Health (DOH). Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro also signed, as witness and consultant.
On Feb. 13, the Jesuit archbishop said he decided to cancel the agreement after some bishops opposed it at the January
plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in Manila. He made the announcement in an
address at the 34th Annual Convention of the Diocesan Clergy of Mindanao.
Nonetheless, he said he would continue to encourage CWL to cooperate with the government in promoting natural family
planning (NFP) whenever possible.
Archbishop Ledesma told UCA News earlier this year that the MOA was brought to the attention of the Pontifical Council of the
Family. He said he received a copy of a letter sent to Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, chairman of the council, questioning the
archbishop's advocacy of the Standard Days Method (SDM) and the Church's collaboration with the government on promoting
this or other NFP methods.
The January CBCP plenary listened to a presentation on SDM and reactions from a panel of family-life volunteers, according
to Archbishop Romulo Valles of Zamboanga, who gave the keynote address at the Mindanao clergy convention.
He told UCA News the panelists impressed on the bishops that SDM is "no better than other Church-approved methods" and
that it is open to failure. The bishops grew concerned that SDM users would combine the method with artificial means, such as
condoms or contraceptive pills, instead of abstaining from sexual intercourse on a woman's fertile days. The Church opposes
all artificial means of contraception.
SDM, developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health of Georgetown University, a Jesuit-run university in Washington,
D.C., allows couples to track a woman's fertility period using a necklace of different colored beads. Unlike the Billings
Ovulation Method, which is based on an individual's woman's cycle, the Georgetown study standardized the fertility cycle.
Archbishop Valles said bishops at the plenary assembly were also wary of the possibility that the government could use the
Church to "legitimize" the promotion of various contraceptive methods.
The bishops' concerns echoed those that family-life workers in Cagayan de Oro archdiocese expressed in their letter to
Cardinal Trujillo. However, Archbishop Ledesma said he decided to cancel the CWL agreement without pressure from any
Church official. Last Dec. 29, he issued a response to the letter in his Internet "blog," or web log, at
He explained that under the terms of the agreement, DOH and POPCOM were to co-fund the government program and the
archdiocese would provide training manuals and trainers. He also reported that the MOA contained enough explicit provisions
that "Natural Family Planning methods will not be combined in any way with artificial means of birth regulation," and that the
SDM promotion would be delivered as a separate program. The archbishop was to help plan the program.
The government program would "replicate" the Church's All-NFP program for parishes, Archbishop Ledesma said. All-NFP is a
comprehensive program that the archbishop started in Ipil prelature, which he headed as a coadjutor bishop and bishop from
Union of Catholic Asian News » News Archive » Church-Government Collaboration On ... Page 2 of 3
1997 to 2006. It involves six NFP methods recognized by the bishops' conference including SDM.
Program components include orienting parish and community leaders, training family-planning service providers and visiting
houses to counsel clients.
After Archbishop Ledesma was installed in Cagayan de Oro last May 30, he started the program in the archdiocese. It
currently operates in five parishes and is set to begin in another seven.
The archdiocese drafted the MOA with DOH and POPCOM offices for the Northern Mindanao region, to which Cagayan de
Oro belongs. "In deference to the precautions expressed from various quarters, I encouraged the Catholic Women's League
as a religious lay organization to be a signatory to the MOA instead of the archdiocese itself," Archbishop Ledesma wrote in
He explained that NFP promoters in the women's league and parishes decided to team up with the government after
POPCOM on Dec. 6 launched a new policy to promote only natural methods of family planning. "If the Church is serious in
mainstreaming NFP as a pastoral program to reach many more couples ... the offer of working with the support of government
resources should not be downplayed," the archbishop asserted.
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