The Catholic Church’s asking for forgiveness for the sins it has committed against women is now put to test in the Philippines. Will the Reproductive Health Bill that the Church has openly declared war with finally pass this September? Let us go back to history more than 500 years ago to see how the unfolding of events has molded the women’s lives to what it is now.
Year 1484. A Papal Bull, whom book writers Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger inspired with their printed Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches) to ferret out alleged witches, mostly women, had been issued approving the Inquisition’s prosecuting and burning of women at the stake.
It was a systematic persecution that hundreds of European women who may had been suspected of possessing stones, books, herbs, cauldrons, stick brooms or may had a list of recipes for herbal medicine preparations or who had gone to a neighbor seeking help on how to cure a headache – were enough evidence to convict them as witches, and thus, punished with death by burning.
Year 1521 and onward. Spanish chroniclers Antonio Pigafetta, Miguel de Loarca, and Antonio de Morga, and 100 years later Fr. Ignacio Alcina, had been one in saying that Indio women were “very vicious and sensual” and that this ‘carnal pleasure” was the fault of lumay or gayuma prescribed and concocted by the ancient herbolaria, a witchdoctor or native priestesses called babaylans.
The Spaniards had declared war against the babaylans following the Inquisitors’ paradigm in Europe because they embody the early pagan beliefs that were said to be the works of Satan. Their rituals, dances, prayers and chants were all against the laws of the Church that was even made virulent with the babaylan efforts to drive the Spaniards away from the islands.
Women’s bodies represented the “perverse” Evil that must be subjugated. The Spanish colonizers’ patriarchal world view had been particularly challenged by the Filipino society’s sexual freedom (with no concept of women’s virginity and presence of divorce, among others) and matrilineal system of naming the offspring.
Abuses, rapes, slavery, impregnations, public humiliations and whippings had been too many that Pastoral Letters and Instructions to Clergy were issued to the Spaniards in the Philippines to at least review how the women were particularly treated in the islands.
Year 1995. Pope John Paul II, in a gesture of humility and admission, had asked the women forgiveness for the Church’s persecution of the witches and wrongly placed religious piety. In His Holiness’ Letter to the Women, the Pope had asked forgiveness for burning them at the stake and historical degradation of countless women around the world.
Year 2009. Reproductive Health Bill 5043 sponsor Representative Edcel Lagman in his speech at the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines’ (FPOP) 40th anniversary last August expressed hopes that the bill will be passed this September. This controversial RH Bill which has been the center of debates between RH Bill advocates and the Catholic Church represented by the Pro-Life Movement provides for a “national policy on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population development.”
Church position supporters –for the nth time – have called this RH Bill “Satan’s work” much like Europe’s early Inquisitors and Philippines’ Spanish colonizers condemning again women to a life of oblivion.
The congressman from Albay said that 113 representatives have already supported the bill with some secretly backing it up for fear of reprisal and backlash from the Church group. Only 76 votes are needed for the RH Bill to become a law.
September 15, 2009. University of the Philippines and Gregorian University in Rome graduate Reverend Father Carlos Reyes, in The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation’s forum titled “Freedom of Religion in Islam and Catholic Christianity” reiterated Pope John Paul II’s asking of forgiveness to the women.
“Forgive us for persecuting you; forgive us for degrading you.”
RH Bill now, to my mind, becomes an acid test, for the Church.
May our nameless and hapless women ancestors now rest in peace.