The following comes from a Jan. 29 story by Sandro Magister in Chiesa news service.

They have not gone without notice, the harsh criticisms addressed by an authoritative Jesuit of the authoritative La Civiltà Cattolica to the bishops of the Philippines, for their strenuous opposition to the law on “reproductive health” successfully backed in the country by Catholic president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

The criticisms, formulated in a book, were presented in detail in this article from www.chiesa: > Bishops of the Philippines Under Pressure. Examined and Rejected

The Jesuit who slammed the Filipino bishops for being “backward” and “closed off” not only with respect to the beacons of modernity but also with respect to the requests of Pope Francis is the Frenchman Pierre de Charentenay, a former president of the Centre Sèvres, the Paris institute of higher education of the Society of Jesus, director from 2004 to 2012 of the magazine of the Jesuits of France, Études, and since last year part of the team of writers of La Civiltà Cattolica, the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed after inspection by Vatican authorities and directed by a man very close to the pope, Fr. Antonio Spadaro.

His dismissal of the bishops of the Philippines made an even bigger impression because it coincided with the journey of Pope Francis to that country, which is not only the only one in Asia with a majority Catholic population, but also distinguishes itself by the strong presence of its bishops in the public sphere.

Receiving the pope on January 16 at the presidential palace, Benigno Aquino, educated in the Jesuit schools of Manila, also took the opportunity to criticize the Filipino bishops. In welcoming his guest he cited and turned against them the pre-Christmas address of Francis to the Roman curia, with the condemnation of those who by virtue of their roles make themselves “sowers of discord.”

But neither in the discourse delivered immediately after that circumstance – where he nonetheless struck a blow for the “inalienable right to life, beginning with that of the unborn” – nor in other moments of his visit did Pope Francis expend a single word in defense of the bishops.

Not everyone, however, among the Jesuits agrees with the accusatory theses of their confrere of La Civiltà Cattolica, clearly disparaging toward the cultural limitations that he identifies in the Catholicism of the Philippines: “close to a Latin American spirituality, expressive along the lines of the Spanish model but without the liberal tendencies inherited from the Enlightenment or the French Revolution.”

From San Francisco, after reading the rejection of the Filipino bishops decreed by Fr. de Charentenay because of their closure to modernity, the Jesuit Joseph Fessio reacted by sending us the letter reproduced below.

Fr. Fessio is not an unknown. Formed in the theological school of Joseph Ratzinger – and a prominent member of the circle of his disciples, the Ratzinger Schülerkreis – he founded and directs the publishing house Ignatius Press in the United States, which recently made an impression with the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” with contributions from five cardinals against communion for the divorced and remarried.

The following are the “errors of reason and of fact” that Fr. Fessio sees present in Fr. de Charentenay’s criticisms of the bishops of the Philippines, on matters of “reproductive health.”

Fessio letter
Dear Sandro Magister,

I am deeply saddened and distressed by what Fr. Pierre de Charentenay has written. It is all the more damaging because the book, as you have described it, is otherwise a serious and informed work.

Here are two passages which I find especially noxious, even though – perhaps because – they give expression to widespread, but false, opinions.

1. Fr. de Charentenay writes: “In the discussion, the Catholic Church never mentions the proliferation of abortion, a reality decidedly more serious than the contraception it is fighting. The two things are connected, because abortion is the means for avoiding birth when contraception is not used. The greater evil follows the lesser evil.”

Is it true that abortion is a greater evil than contraception, even “decidedly more serious”? Not necessarily. Take the case of  married couples who without grave necessity use contraception to postpone having children for years after they are married. Certainly in some cases it is God’s will for them to be open to new life. Which then is the graver evil? To prevent the conception – and very existence – of a human being with an immortal soul, desired by God and destined for eternal happiness? Or to abort a child in the womb? The latter is certainly a grave evil, Gaudium et spes calls it an “abominable crime”. But a child exists who will live eternally. In the former circumstance a child God intended to be will never exist.

Certainly contraception is widespread, even among married Catholics. But, just as in the millions upon millions of procured abortions that have taken place in recent years, the profound question is raised: How can God allow such evil to proliferate? There are no easy answers to this mysterium iniquitatis. And that means that the easy answer – that an evil like contraception is not really serious – is unacceptable for a Christian. God’s ways are not our ways. But that does not negate knowable fundamental principles, one of which is: it is a greater evil to deprive someone of existence than to deprive someone of temporal life.

In addition Fr. de Charentenay’s fundamental error of reason, he is also factually in error. He rightly states that abortion and contraception “are connected”; but they are not connected in the way he implies. i.e. that increased access to contraception will reduce the number of abortions. The facts support the exact opposite conclusion. Statistics worldwide show that increased access to contraception has a high correlation to increased abortions. And the data are also intuitive: once a contraceptive mentality has become widespread, then abortion is regarded as simply a “backup” when contraception fails – as it so often does.

2. Fr. de Charentenay writes: “The RH Bill was conceived of to assist the poor populations and permit them to have access to the contraception that the middle class and the wealthy are already using. The different social groups do not have the same opportunities on this point. So the RH bill responds to a question of justice that is motivating the government on behalf of these poor populations.”

The pernicious error here is obvious and needs little comment: because the wealthy are able to circumvent a law proscribing a grave evil, then the law should be abolished so that the poor are not deprived of the same opportunity.

I am not saying that there cannot be sound reasons for the Church in some circumstances to tolerate laws which permit a moral evil. However the claim that it is a “question of justice” is not one of them.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.