Academic freedom not absolute, CBCP says

Catholic institutions including their faculty must stand by Church teachings, bishops insisted, seemingly punctuating a recent word war between student publications of Catholic universities.

"Academic freedom is not a right for faculty members of a Catholic educational institution to betray its Catholic identity and nature and cannot be a reason for dissenting against the official Catholic position as on the Reproductive Health Bill," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said.

The CBCP was quoting a document called "Primer on the Year of Faith and on the New Evangelization," written by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo.

Although noting that professors have freedom to choose, this freedom "is not absolute," the document said.

"It is necessarily limited by the moral law, as taught authoritatively by the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church," it added.

The contradiction between the faculty members' and the Church's, bishops said, may give rise to "confusion created among the faithful."

The CBCP statement follows a heated exchange among Catholic universities over support for Reproductive Health (RH) Bill expressed by some faculty members of the Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle University.

In a strongly-worded editorial, the Varsitarian, the student publication of the University of Santo Tomas, hit the move as "naive and misguided thinking about health and social problems."

"By going against the stand of the bishops, the Ateneo and La Salle professors are saying they don’t agree with the Church's mission," the Varsitarian said.

It added that the faculty members must resign "if they have the courage of their conviction."

"But alas, it seems intellectual honesty and moral conviction are in such short supply in Katipunan, Quezon City and Taft Avenue, Manila," the Varsitarian ended.

The editorial has drawn mixed reactions online and has sparked sharp replies from the Guidon and the La Sallian, the student publications of Ateneo and La Salle respectively.

"Whatever stand The Varsitarian chooses to take on the RH bill or on any contentious topic, it must know that, as with any other media organization, its output will be held to the standards of sound journalism," the Guidon said.

"The students of the University of Santo Tomas deserve far better, and the first step The Varsitarian can take is to honestly, sincerely and critically reevaluate itself," it added.

Although lauding the Varsitarian's courage, the La Sallian, for its part, said "the method of expression used to express the matter veered away from the real issue, while creating new and unnecessary ones."

"The RH Bill is an important issue that deserves constructive discourse. None of this constructive discourse, however, can come from ad hominem lambasting from any of the parties involved, whether Pro-RH or Anti-RH," the La Sallian added.

Meanwhile, still quoting Quevedo, the CBCP reiterated staunch opposition to the RH bill.

"[D]istribution and use of artificial contraceptive means to prevent conception and the implantation of the fertilized egg in the womb are not morally neutral," it said.

"Based on official Catholic moral teaching, they are in fact morally evil," the CBCP added.

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