The out of touch Catholic Church

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

The idea for this article came about while I was gathering notes for a separate article I was writing in relation to Ateneo Law School’s 75th anniversary. I was reading some lectures and papers of Horacio de la Costa, the Jesuit priest-scholar, and they were incredibly interesting for their elegance, intelligence, and -- considering he wrote them around 40 years ago -- utter prescience.

Examples: "we must also find some workable integration of the twin objectives of productivity and equity"; and "the quality of a society depends, in large measure, on the quality of its leaders." Finally, for somebody long advocating for caution regarding Philippine entry into FTAs, particularly if it’s between us and a rich developed country, Fr. De la Costa had this to say: "free trade between an industrial country and an agricultural country is to the detriment of the agricultural country."

What’s further interesting is that Fr. De la Costa wasn’t even a lawyer or a developmental/trade policy specialist. But what he did had (he died in 1977) was a profound insight into the realities of the human condition, particularly that of the Filipino. And it’s no coincidence that he is part of the Catholic Church.

People accuse the Church of being out of touch, archaic, whose teachings are unconnected to fact or science. But the fact of the matter is: no other institution on Earth can claim to have the same understanding of how human beings function. As Pope John Paul II was wont to say: the Church "is an expert in humanity." Or to put it another way, the Church isn’t behind science or society; actually it’s the other way around.

Interestingly enough, the past recent months saw The Economist provide two instances of the Church’s counter-intuitive thinking again proven right by scientists. The first had to do with the role of mortification and penance in assuaging guilt: researchers from the University of Queensland, in Australia, found that guilt "seems to behave in the laboratory as theologians have long claimed it should. It has a powerful effect on willingness to tolerate pain. And it can be assuaged by such pain. Atonement hurts. But it seems to work." (The Economist, "The masochism tango," Feb. 5, 2011)

And last January, The Economist reported on a finding that’s bound to disappoint some hormonally confused twenty-something: "When is it the right time to do the deed? If priests had their way, it would be shortly after the wedding ceremony -- but recent studies show such advice is rarely heeded. Roughly 85% of the American population, for example, approves of premarital sex. Faced with numbers like that, what hope do the Vatican and its ilk really have?" However, the Church, again, seems to have been proven correct: "Dean Busby and his colleagues at Brigham Young University, in Utah, however, have gathered some data which support delay ... Their report, just published in the Journal of Family Psychology, suggests that people who delay having sex do indeed have better relationships, on four different measures. That result applies to both men and women." ("The waiting game," Jan. 22, 2011)

Then there’s this famous incident in 2009 when Pope Bendict XVI made a declaration that went against the wisdom of the entire world. Asked about condoms and AIDs in South Africa, the Pope replied: "The scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem." That answer provoked an international maelstrom, with alleged free thinkers, who should have kept an open mind on the matter, resorting to numerous insults on the Pope. Unfortunately for them, the Pope was right. As Martyn Drakard of the Observer wrote: "A Harvard expert on AIDS prevention, Dr. Edward C. Green, said ‘the Pope is actually correct’" and also that "in an article in the leading British medical journal, The Lancet, James Shelton, of the US Agency for International Development, stated openly that one of the 10 damaging myths about the fight against AIDS is that condoms are the answer." And let’s not forget Caritas in Veritate.

Anybody who is rational would really have to consider this one important fact: how can the Church be out of touch when it’s filled with men who do nothing all day but ponder about humanity or listen about the confessed sins of other men? And they’ve been doing that for 2,000 years, starting with Jesus’ highly counter-intuitive advice to "love your enemies." As GK Chesterton wrote: "First it must be remembered that the Church is always in advance of the world. That is why it is said to be behind the times." The Catholic Church, he correctly finds: is the "only institution that is not only right but always right when everything else is wrong."

So if you’re smart, you might want to seriously take this piece of advice from Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput: "If you’re Catholic and you disagree with your Church, what do you do? You change your mind."