(Photo: Activists display condoms to support a reproductive health bill in Manila October 1, 2010/Romeo Ranoco)
The senior bishop in the Philippines’ powerful Roman Catholic Church denied Friday any suggestion that the church could excommunicate President Benigno Aquino for backing a plan to teach Filipinos about contraception.
“Abortion is a grave crime, excommunication is attached to this,” Bishop Nereo Odchimar, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), told Radio Veritas on Thursday. He said excommunication was a possibility if condoms were distributed to the poor.
But Friday, he denied the church would consider such action against the president. “While the prevailing sentiment of a number of bishops was that of dismay and frustration over the reported stance of the president regarding artificial contraceptives, imposition of the canonical sanction has not been contemplated by the CBCP,” he said in a statement.
The Church is a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian country. Its support has been a key factor in the overthrow of two presidents over 25 years and politicians are careful not to offend it. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, but condoms and birth control pills are available despite church objections.
Like four out of five Filipinos, Aquino is a Catholic. But he backs a program before Congress on grounds that slowing annual population growth of 2 percent could boost living standards, as one in three residents lives below the poverty line.