Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, a staunch opponent of the RH Bill, unwittingly stated what the Church’s position on artificial contraception should have been from the very start, “We will tell Catholics ‘even if you are given free contraceptives, do not use them’.”

That position would have spared the country a decades-long political fight over an issue that is essentially a religious matter. It would have also spared bishops the animosity and contempt for the hysterical and at times downright dishonest arguments they used to rally support against the RH Bill.

A paper by Leslie Woodcock Tentler, then a professor of history in the Catholic University of America, traced the marginalization of the American Catholic Church in the area of sexual decision-making, to its stand on artificial contraception. “A substantial majority of today’s Catholics reject the notion that Church authority alone –i.e. that of the Pope and bishops – -should guide lay Catholics in moral decision-making.” He added, “Particularly with regard to sexual ethics, most Catholics appear to believe, the locus of moral authority is properly the conscience of the individual believer.” The native bishops should have learned from the American experience and of many other countries that the official Church position against artificial contraception would undermine rather than further their moral authority over their flock.

The bishops just lost the battle over contraception and already they are raising alarm over an impending divorce bill. That will be another bitter and drawn-out fight on yet another issue where you have a religious group wanting to continue the imposition of the law of its God on a secular republic. “What God has joined together let no man out asunder.” But legal separation and annulment is allowed under certain circumstances.

What is the difference between legal separation and divorce other than one does not allow for remarriage while the other does?

No doubt the bishops will once again manage to create fine distinctions as to why legal separation and annulments are okay but divorce is not, even though the end result of all three actions – -the separation of irreconcilable couples and the breaking up of families — is the same.

The divorce bill will be billed like the battle over the RH Bill — a battle between good and evil — when in fact it is merely the never-ending struggle for supremacy between Church and State. Those against divorce will draw heavily on biblical sources and church doctrine and they will raise the specter of moral decline. Those on the opposite side will argue that the inhumanity of trapping couples in a bad marriage, its consequences on children and society as a whole, are valid reasons enough to end the farce of legal separations and annulments as alternatives to divorce.

The Church must stay out of politics. Bishops must resist the temptation of becoming power players and brokers, a role that has gotten the Church into trouble time after time over its 2000-year history. Instead of using their clout to meddle in politics hoping to create an environment friendly to their belief and teachings, they should focus on forming consciences that will guide their flock into creating a better society. Heck if there is moral decline, promiscuity, corruption and all that everywhere, all I can say is children are not born that way so don’t blame modernity, as the former Archbishop of Manila did, for failing to form good consciences.

The primary role of the Church is to form good consciences–not to play politics. That way if a divorce law does happen then all the Church has to do to save the world from eternal damnation is rephrase the unwitting advice of Bishop Reyes, “We will tell Catholics, even if you are given a divorce law, do not use it.”

So both the Church and the government can do their respective jobs without interference from the other. And we ordinary folks can finally enjoy some peace and privacy in our bedrooms.

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms (