by Jose Ma. Montelibano


A schism, according to Wikipedia, is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement of a religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within some other religion.

From the Catholic encyclopedia, schism is, in the language of theology and canon law, the rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity.

And from the dynamics within the Philippine Catholic Church and faithful, the seeds of a schism are now clearly planted by the controversy over the RH Bill.

It is less the RH Bill, though, that has triggered the open controversy between Catholics and Catholics, whether religious or lay. The issue of divorce had come earlier, but it did not have the universality of the pro-life and pro-choice battle. It is still there, though, and will not go away until it happens. No nation except the Philippines (well, the Vatican, too, if we regard it as a full-fledged nation) has withstood the reality of divorce. Perhaps, its delayed acceptance is due to the fact that a substantial percentage of Filipino couples are not married in the first place (too poor to do so).

In my mind, though, it is neither the RH Bill or the divorce issue that are the fundamental causes of the looming split within the Catholic Church. I believe that the Catholic faith itself as understood by the laity is severely challenged. The dominance of Catholicism in Europe has long faded away, partly from schisms and then from the steady drifting away of the laity from the practice of the faith. Beyond historical beliefs and practices, Catholics in Europe must have found more relevant options for their spiritual needs.

Worldwide membership of the Catholic Church remains steady with actual growth rates in Africa and Asia despite a slight drop in Catholic percentages in the Philippines. It is the historical pattern of Church membership in Europe that particularly interests me because our own domestic Catholic Church is a product of the European Catholic Church. I would then look at Brazil because our percentages to total population approximate ours. Thirdly, I watch the Catholic Church in the United States because Filipinos continue to be heavily influenced by American behavior and practices.

From the outside, it is also good to observe the rise of Protestant churches and groups as they are almost half of the population of Catholics worldwide – not bad for a splinter group that was born from a major schism in the Catholic Church.

When status quo organizations or groups are threatened, most invariably turn towards conservatism, then fundamentalism. The Catholic Church in the Philippines is no exception, as it confronts the RH Bill. The question in my mind is how successful, from the beginning of its formation, has the Catholic Church been in resisting all it had by becoming rigid or belligerent – as in the case of divorce. Contraceptives have become commonplace, not only in the Philippines, but especially in America which has about the same number of Catholics as us.

In the Philippines, the family size becomes smaller as the economic capacity becomes higher. In other words, the birth rate in Forbes Park or Dasmariñas Village is much lower than the birth rate in Baseco. But I seriously doubt that the residents of the plush villages have less sex than the residents of poor communities. There is no government agency distributing contraceptives in the rich subdivisions but lower birth rates happen as a consequence of finer lifestyles. Maybe if government will induce economic progress among the impoverished, the poor themselves will find their own way to having fewer children – no matter what the government or Church says.

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