Half of Filipino Catholics Don't Wed in Church

More than half of Filipino Catholics have not married under Catholic rites, according to a survey conducted by the Catholic Church-run station Radio Veritas, a figure that a church monsignor described as “very alarming.”

It is uncertain if the survey, which the radio station called a “truth survey,” demonstrates the diminishing hold that the church has on the Filipino population. According to the radio station, many couples forsake a church wedding because of the expense of the ceremony. The original survey, in Tagalog, can be found here.

Certainly the Philippines remains a deeply Catholic country, with 81 percent of the people identifying themselves with the faith according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2004 by the U S State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. However, the results do appear to give some indication of the church’s real influence at the grassroots and suggests that half of those who said they weren’t married in a church were not married at all, even in civil ceremonies, which fits with statistics that show 20 percent of the country’s births are out of wedlock.

The Bishops Conference of the Philippines is involved in a last-ditch effort to block a bid by the administration of Benigno S. Aquino III to push through a long-stalled reproductive health bill that would make birth control devices available to Filipino families. The Bishops’ Conference has denounced Aquino for his support of the measure, making it a test of both his power and the church’s.

Certainly the Filipino church has faced challenges to its image. The bishops were hit by a major scandal two years ago in the so-called Pajaros for Priests episode in which the church hierarchy received SUVs from disgraced former President Arroyo and paid her back by supporting congressmen who thwarted impeachment bids against her.

Then, earlier this year, the Rev. Cristobal Garcia, one of the most prominent faces of the church in Cebu, was exposed as having been expelled by the Dominican order in Los Angeles after a nun told police an altar boy had been found in his bed in the rectory. Having fled back to the Philippines, Garcia has since been named a monsignor at the Society of the Angel of Peace in a village outside Cebu, where he oversees a chapel, a children’s Sunday school program and a squad of altar boys.

This particular bill has been in the works for two years although other versions have been around for at least 15 years, stymied by the opposition of the church, which has brought its power to bear to defeat lawmakers who sponsored them. Opinion surveys suggest that the majority of Filipinos favor the bill, and Aquino’s current high popularity should help its passage. But opposition remains formidable. The legislature’s primary mission for this session is to pass an annual budget, and the reproductive health bill may have been shifted to the back burner.

Although contraceptive devices are widely used in the Philippines, particularly by the more prosperous classes, poorer families mostly still have several children, giving the Philippines the highest fertility rate in Asia east of Afghanistan – an average of 3.1 births per woman of fertile age. High population growth – 35 percent of the population is under 15 – is often cited as the reason why per capita income growth in the Philippine has lagged far behind that of neighboring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.

Some 2,500 respondents from 85 archdioceses and dioceses covering all 17 church regions participated in the radio station’s survey, called “The Filipino Catholicity.”

The results showed that 50.2 percent of those surveyed had no answer when asked if they were married in churches, while 7.5 percent openly admitted that they were not married. Only 42.3 percent of the couples replied that they had married in a Catholic ceremony

Sociology Professor Clifford Sorita was quoted as saying he believes the 50.2 percent of those who answered “NA” were not married but were reluctant to admit that they were living together out of wedlock.

“For Filipinos, if you are married why would you not say that you are married… They are embarrassed, they are not comfortable. They would rather hide in anonymity and not answer the question directly,” he said.

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) media office director Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III told the media that the results of the survey were “very alarming.”

“The Catholic Church would have to focus on this problem. This is a serious problem and we have to do something,” he said. Bishop Teodoro Bacani, vice chair emeritus of the bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Doctrine of the Faith said in a statement that the survey results showed the need for an apostolate (mission of an apostle) to get Catholic couples to wed in the Church.

“For the foundation of the Christian family is Christian marriage. You cannot form Christian families without Christian marriage,” Bacani said.

He said he also suspects that a portion of the 7.5 percent of those who admitted they were not married might have wed in civil rites or were living together and thus might even add to the number of Catholic couples who were not wed in churches.

Sorita told the media that in the survey, civil marriage was not considered a marriage at all “because the precept is that you have to be married in a church.”