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Catholic Bishops in Burkina Faso Seek to Clarify Controversy Over Contraceptives

Members of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina-Niger (CEBN). Credit: Fr. Paul Dah

Catholic Bishops in Burkina Faso have, in an open letter, sought to clarify the controversy surrounding contraceptives following the health Minister’s claim that in discouraging the use of artificial birth control methods, Church leaders “undermine the efforts of the government.” 

In their letter issued October 29, members of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina-Niger (CEBN) make reference to a viral audio in which Minister Charlemagne Ouédraogo threatens to “terminate” the collaboration between the Catholic Church and the Ministry he oversees.

“The activity mentioned was not intended, either in its content or in its form, to oppose the Minister of Health that you are, much less to undermine the public health policy of our country,” the Catholic Bishops say in reference to press conference held by the Episcopal Commission for Pastoral Health Care during which the book titled, “The health hazards of contraceptive methods: A scientific approach” was presented. 

During the event, CEBN members say, they “only wanted to awaken the conscience of our faithful and of people of good will on the disadvantages of contraceptives.”

In the October 18 audio, Mr. Ouédraogo is heard cautioning Church leaders against undermining “the efforts of the government” and claiming that the matter of contraceptives is beyond the “specialty” of faith-based leaders.

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“You can advise people on natural methods, but you should not communicate on what is not your specialty. And if you communicate on it, I will terminate and denounce the convention that links your structures to the Ministry of Health in all responsibility,” the Minister of Health in Burkina Faso reportedly says in the audio recording. 

He further warns, “We must respect the secular nature of the Burkinabe State. I do not agree that there are such conferences that announce what is not true to discourage the population who want to use these methods.”

In their October 29 open letter, CEBN members express their “indignation with regard to such remarks that we consider unjust, even erroneous, while assuring you that the Catholic Church does not seek confrontation with anyone.” 

“Our press conference seems to have put you in such a state that you thought you had to utter the words conveyed by the audio and which surprised many and left many others perplexed and wondering, even outside the Catholic world,” CEBN members say.

The Catholic Church, the Bishops in Burkina Faso say, “puts all her efforts and resources at the service of the human being and of all people without looking at the price, especially in these times of security and health crisis.”

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In a secular state, they say, “the word of the public authority does not take away the right of citizens to express themselves, to say what they think, whether they are religious or not.”

“Our State, as far as we know, is not a dictatorship nor a citadel of unique thought, which is why, to be more complete, we humbly suggest speaking about a secular and democratic State. For secularism is combined with democracy, subsidiarity, freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the respect of law and morality (good morals),” the Catholic Bishops explain.

Secularism, they continue, “requires the State to keep an equal distance from all religions. Our country is committed to giving proper content to secularism and the Catholic Church participates in this work alongside other religions and institutions.”

On the Church's agreements with the State and their financial implications, CEBN members say, “This type of instrument exists in all countries of the world to promote collaboration between the State and a variety of private partners in sectors, especially social sectors, that the State rarely manages to cover.”

“Everyone knows that it is a matter of cooperating for the good of the population, especially the poorest,” the Catholic Bishops say underscoring the value of Church-State collaboration, and add, “exemptions are not a favor to the Church but a service to vulnerable populations.” 

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“No subsidy can condition the Church in its positions in conformity with its doctrine, which it does not claim to impose,” CEBN members observe. 

They further note that Church structures “pay taxes when they carry out taxable activities according to the laws of the Republic.”

“For this reason, it was indecent to threaten the Church with being sent to the tax offices, as if it did not pay taxes or was happy to avoid them. Taxes are an act of citizenship, justice and responsibility. It is strange that you would use it as a tool to publicly threaten,” the Catholic Bishops in Burkina Faso say, addressing themselves to the country’s health Minister. 

“We do not understand why we cannot debate and warn about the risks and disadvantages of policies related to this issue,” CEBN members probe, adding that the utterances of the health ministry show some degree of “disrespectful and contemptuous” disposition

“On these subjects, the Catholic Church has a doctrine, a magisterium which she does not claim to impose on public authorities or on anyone else for that matter. But she cannot renounce teaching this doctrine by all decent means to her faithful and to every man of good will who listens to her voice,” the Catholic Bishops in Burkina Faso further say. 

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They continue, “Mr. Minister, we believe that the Catholic Church can, in the democratic game, contribute to the choices made by our country and help to verify their conformity with our authentic African values.”

“In conclusion, we would like to assure you of our prayers and of our availability to deepen with you the concerns that you have addressed in the audio,” Catholic Bishops in Burkina Faso say in their October 29 open letter.