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In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

In this Issue:

The Church and Abortion
The Church and State
The Church and Condoms
The Church and Contraception
The Sex-Abuse Scandal
End Notes

The Church and Abortion

Wafer Wars
Bishops in the US and Europe have taken different stances on whether to refuse communion to prochoice Catholic politicians. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, made his case for denying
communion to prochoice politicians during an interview, claiming that politicians were using church as a “photo op for [their] own position.” In Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien expressed similar views on
refusing communion to prochoice politicians.

In the US, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke continued to spearhead his lonely campaign, vowing to withhold communion to candidates who support abortion rights. Having made a name for himself during the 2004 election cycle, and attracted significant media attention for a position that was only supported by a handful of bishops, Burke wrote an article for the academic journal published by Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, Periodica de re Canonica, urging his fellow bishops to refuse communion to any Catholic who espouses a prochoice position. While only attracting attention from conservative blogs at this stage, the issue could emerge depending on who the eventual candidates for president are.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, openly opposes denying the
Eucharist to prochoice Catholic politicians. Asked about Archbishop Burke’s stance, Cardinal McCarrick told an Associated Press reporter, “I very much respect his position…. It’s not mine.” Noting that no candidate is entirely in line with the hierarchy’s teachings, he said that the so-called life issues are only a part of Catholic beliefs and that individual Catholics must rely on their own conscience.

McCarrick subsequently called into question the authenticity of any Catholic who expressed prochoice views, a statement that was quickly rejected as untenable by Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, who said, “In Catholicism, once you are baptized you are authentically Catholic. We don’t have a litmus test for Catholicism.”

Irish Bishops Seek to Apply Brakes to Increasing Support for Abortion
Following a series of polls showing that a majority of people in Ireland support legislation permitting abortion in certain circumstances, the Irish bishops issued a firm decree opposing any such move. Still very much on the defensive following ongoing allegations of huge cover-ups in the sexual abuse scandal, the bishops are unlikely with their statement to affect lay Catholics’ behavior significantly. Unfortunately, the Irish government has been reluctant to enact even the most timid legislation on
the matter, even after a Supreme Court decision permitting an abortion when a woman’s life is in danger. Government officials are beginning to come under fire for ducking the issue and recent polls are likely to lend support for increased efforts to effect change.

Catholics in the UK Support Abortion Rights

A poll in the UK commissioned by Catholics for Choice shows definitive support for a woman’s right to have an abortion in cases of unwanted pregnancy. The YouGov poll shows a majority of the nearly 2,000 respondents to be more liberal than the 1967 UK law on abortion, which does not allow women
to end a pregnancy solely on the grounds of its being unintended or unwanted.

Sixty-three percent of respondents agreed that it should be legal for a woman to have an abortion when she has an unwanted pregnancy, including 58 percent of self-identified Protestants and 43 percent of self-identified Catholics. Only 27 percent of Catholics disagreed.

Sixty-four percent of respondents agreed that Catholic bishops concentrate too much attention on abortion when there are other issues they should concentrate on, including 68 percent of Protestants and 42 percent of Catholics. Again, only 27 percent of Catholics disagreed.

Across all major groups surveyed, a majority knew someone who has had an abortion, including 54 percent of all respondents, 53 percent of Protestants, 52 percent of Catholics and 56 percent of those who expressed no religious belief.

The UK government is considering changes to the country’s abortion laws, most likely changes that will make it easier to access early abortion. The results of the poll were presented to a meeting of members of Parliament who were considering how to vote on the changes.

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The Church and State

US Bishops Decide Abortion Is Pre-eminent Election Issue
In November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a new election document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

For the first time, the bishops state that abortion is the most important issue and above all others that Catholics might consider when thinking about for whom to vote. The bishops did not seem to
consider whether many Catholics look to them for guidance on these matters. Despite regular lectures from the pulpit, Catholics have rarely gone along with what their bishops said. In the last election cycle, a major poll of Catholics found that 70 percent said the views of their bishops were not important when it came to deciding for whom to vote. A mere seven percent said the views of the bishops were “very important,” while 40 percent said they are “not at all important.” In addition, 83 percent believed that Catholic politicians did not have an obligation to vote the way the bishops recommended, and fully 78 percent objected to threats to deny communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.

In the coming election, it’s already clear that significant numbers of Catholic voters are considering voting for candidates who would not meet the bishops’ approval. Among Catholics considering the Republican candidate, the thrice-married, prochoice and pro-gay rights Rudy Giuliani has attracted 39 percent support; among Catholics leaning toward the Democratic Party, 45 percent support the similarly prochoice, pro-gay rights Hillary Clinton.

CFC President Jon O’Brien said, “Catholics have a refreshing independence when it comes to listening to their spiritual leaders. And as we know, that independence is not reserved for party politics. While Catholics tend to vote in line with the rest of the population, they also support access to safe and legal abortion, contraception and sexuality education. The bishops have a right to their
opinion, but American Catholics will do as they have done in every election and vote with their consciences.”

Economist Supports a “See Change”
the issue of whether the Holy See should be considered a state emerged in the late summer as the
Economist magazine revisited some of the key issues that concern proponents of church-state separation. The magazine concluded that perhaps the Vatican “could renounce its special diplomatic
status and call itself what it is—the biggest nongovernmental organisation in the world.”

In 1999, CFC launched The “See Change” Campaign, an international campaign to challenge the Vatican’s status at the United Nations, where it is often granted the same rights that states have. The
campaign quickly grew to gain the support of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals. As a result, millions of people in every country of the world had the opportunity to learn about the power that the Holy See wields on the international stage.

The Economist article clearly illustrates the success that The “See Change” Campaign has had. Previously, it would be hard to imagine such an established media outlet so openly questioning the
status of the Vatican on the international stage. Perhaps as a direct result of the groundswell of support for a change generated by the campaign, in 2004 the Vatican backed off its claim for full membership in the UN, instead settling for a small increase in its rights at the institution.

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The Church and Condoms

Poll of Catholics Shows Massive Support for Condom Use
a new multinational poll by Catholics for Choice shows that Catholics the world over believe that using condoms is prolife because it prevents the spread of HIV and AIDS.

According to the poll, which interviewed Catholics living in Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States, support for condom use is overwhelming. When asked if “using condoms is prolife because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of AIDS,” 90 percent of Catholics in Mexico, 86 percent in Ireland, 79 percent in the US, 77 percent in the Philippines and 59 percent in
Ghana agreed.

Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy’s position holds the most sway in the countries least able to
deal economically and medically with the disease. Whereas Catholics in Ireland (79 percent), the US
(63 percent) and Mexico (60 percent) overwhelmingly agreed that “the church’s position on condoms is wrong and should be changed,” the numbers were lower for Catholics in the Philippines (47 percent) and Ghana (37 percent). These results are not surprising, especially in the Philippines, where the bishops’ conference has tremendous political influence.

The results are also indicative of the fact that in many countries outside Europe and North America, the Catholic hierarchy’s teachings can profoundly influence people’s behavior even if following those
teachings runs contrary to their health and that of their families. Ghana, which demonstrates the most support for the Vatican’s position, has the highest HIV prevalence rate of all the countries surveyed.

When questioned about the church’s responsibility to help prevent the spread of aids in a health care
context, 87 percent of Irish Catholics, 86 percent of Mexican Catholics, 73 percent of US Catholics, 65 percent of Filipino Catholics, and 60 percent of Ghanaian Catholics believe that “Catholic hospitals and clinics that the government funds should be required to include condoms as parts of AIDS prevention.”

The Catholic hierarchy is not blind to the contradiction in its policy. A year ago, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers, presented the pope with a study on condom use in the case of married couples in which
one partner has HIV/AIDS. The document, which was originally lauded as an indication that the Vatican was considering changing its stance, was never published and is now languishing in a Vatican vault. Meanwhile, married women in Ghana are three times as likely as unmarried women to contract HIV.

To see the complete poll, visit the Catholics for Choice Web site, catholicsforchoice.org.

Italian Ad Mentions the Word “Condom” for the First Time
In Italy, a government funded AIDS awareness advertisement will mention the word “condom” for the first time. Previously the ad campaign, which has been running since the 1980s, has only used images of condoms in its ads and has not mentioned them by name.

The omission is especially odd in Italy, which has a well-founded reputation for featuring almost everything in television and public ads. Until now, condoms, which are widely available throughout the country, have been promoted using nebulous phrases such as “protect your love” in order not to offend the Catholic hierarchy. Movie director Francesca Archibugi, who made the ad, told Reuters that it was a “triumph against a taboo” and railed against the “moralistic facade which, when uncovered, reveals great ignorance.”

Some 4,000 people are infected with HIV in Italy each year.

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The Church and Contraception

Bishops Forced to Back Down over EC in Catholic hospitals
Following a two-year battle with the state’s lawmakers, the Catholic bishops of Connecticut have agreed to allow Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to women who seek treatment
after a sexual assault.

CFC President Jon O’Brien issued a statement saying, “It’s a shame that the bishops had to be forced into providing basic health care at the state’s four Catholic hospitals. For many women, especially
poor women, Catholic emergency rooms act as a primary health provider. Following a sexual assault, a very difficult situation is made worse by the fact that most Catholic hospitals say they do not offer emergency contraception, a step that many health care providers consider routine.”

The bishops’ own guidelines clearly allow the provision of EC after a sexual assault. Directive 36 of the US bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services—a set of guidelines for Catholic health care providers— allows for the provision of EC after rape as a way of permitting a “female who has been raped [to] defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault.” The directive permits the use of EC when a woman “is the victim of sexual assault” and “if, after appropriate testing there is no indication that she is pregnant.” This latter guideline, one the bishops were insisting was included in the new law, is unnecessary and unworkable, as no pregnancy test can show if a woman has conceived within the 72-hour window for EC.

A survey carried out by Catholics for Choice found that only 28 percent of Catholic ERs provide EC to
women who have been raped. Among those Catholic hospitals that do provide EC to rape victims, the majority set up unnecessary barriers, such as pregnancy tests or police reports. Some hospitals (6 percent) indicated that the decision about providing EC was left to the attending physician.

O’Brien continued, “With good luck, a woman who had been raped and went to a Catholic hospital might be seen by an attending physician who would provide EC, but there are no guarantees. Connecticut bishops had to be forced to provide adequate health care. It may be too much to hope that other bishops would do the same voluntarily.”

Canadian Catholic Hospital Settles Claim over Sterilization Denial
A Canadian woman who was refused a tubal ligation by her local Catholic hospital sued and received a cash payment in compensation. The Saskatchewan Catholic Health Corporation is giving Leann Gunther $7,875 (Canadian) and the hospital is reverting to public status. After Ms. Gunther filed a complaint to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission that the denial constituted gender and religious discrimination because the hospital received public funds, the hospital settled. Ms. Gunther told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “We have a right to equal services regardless of our gender or religious beliefs.”

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The Sex-Abuse Scandal

  • The San Diego diocese agreed to pay the second largest settlement in the country, $198 million, to 144 victims who were sexually abused by clergy between 1938 and 1993. The diocese filed for bankruptcy just before the first abuse trial was to start. The judge in the bankruptcy case, Judge Louise DeCarl Adler, had planned to quietly dismiss the bankruptcy case after the settlement was made until she received a fundraising package in the mail from her former parish that grossly underreported the diocese’s holdings. The diocese had started a fundraising campaign to help pay for the settlements, but according to Adler, the financial breakdown offered to prospective donors was “disingenuous” and “lacking candor” compared with what was revealed in court documents. In closing the case, she publicly shamed the diocese, arguing that it was well-equipped to settle the claims but was seeking to use the bankruptcy courts as “a method to hammer down the claims of those abused.”
  • The Diocese of Scranton, Pa., has agreed to pay $3 million—one of the largest individual payouts— to a 22-year-old man who was molested as a teenager for three years by former priest Albert M. Liberatore Jr. In 2005, Liberatore pleaded guilty to attempted sexual abuse in this case and was put on 10 years’ probation. He then received five more years’ probation after pleading guilty to indecent assault and other charges stemming from a different case and was defrocked in 2006. The court heard that the diocese had been warned about Liberatore but did nothing about him.
  • A priest in Germany, Peter Kramer, who was convicted of pedophilia in 2000, has been arrested on further child-sex charges. German bishops issued guidelines on pedophilia in 2002 that explicitly stated that anyone who had ever been convicted of such charges could not be hired in a position that allowed for contact with children, but Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller reinstated Kramer after therapy.
  • In an address to the 125th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone railed against lawyers for victims in clergy sexual abuse trials, saying their work “has nothing to do with respect for the human person, with helping the victims, nor recovery of the guilty—whom we cannot abandon to Hell.” He continued, claiming that the church had “faced the trial with dignity and courage” but “the business created in the United States around the scandal is unbearable.”
  • Jesuits in Alaska agreed to pay $50 million to some 100 victims of sexual abuse by their members. No priest was ever charged with any criminal offenses.
  • The Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, will pay out $37 million to more than 150 victims in cases of abuse dating back to the 1930s.
  • Thirty-two people who were abused by priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh will share a payout of $1.25 million. The amount is not as much as the plaintiffs or their lawyers had hoped, but since the cases were past the statute of limitations, they could not be tried in court.

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End Notes

Argentinean Priest Gets Life for Role in Dirty War
A Catholic priest was sentenced to life imprisonment in Argentina for his involvement in the country’s “dirty war” against left-wing opponents during the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to a report in the New York Times, Fr. Christian von Wernich is the first Catholic priest to be prosecuted for human rights violations in Argentina, where the military regime killed at least 12,000 people. Police chaplain Von Wernich was convicted for his involvement in seven murders, 31 cases of torture and 42 kidnappings. The Catholic hierarchy played a prominent role in Argentina’s brutal war against opposition to the military junta, in contrast to other Latin American nations like Chile and Brazil, where many priests and bishops opposed military rule openly and some paid for it with their lives.

Catholic University Drops Planned Parenthood Ads

After running planned Parenthood advertisements for two days, Pittsburgh radio station WDUQ was instructed by its parent body Duquesne University to stop airing the ads immediately and return over $5,000 in donations from the organization. The Catholic university took issue with Planned Parenthood’s support of abortion and station officials had no choice but to comply since
Duquesne holds WDUQ’s broadcasting license.

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“The Catholic church in England has been working-class Irish for yonks and we’ve only become socially acceptable in the last 30 years. It can be very flattering when you’re courted by the establishment.”

—A London priest explains why former prime minister Tony Blair’s prochoice voting record has not disqualified him from becoming a Catholic. [1]

“Technology without ethics is like a Ferrari without a steering wheel.”

—Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, reveals his taste for the high life.

“In the old days, the devil had a much tougher job because he had to tempt everyone separately. Now, he can use the press, radio or other media.”

—Fr. Tadeusz Rydzyk, founder and director of the ultraconservative Radio Maryja network, addressing young listeners on a pilgrimage to his station. [3]

“They don’t understand why somebody who has behaved so incompetently could keep his job. No CEO would be able to keep his job after losing a quarter of a billion.”

—An anonymous priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles when asked if parishioners thought Cardinal Roger Mahony should resign following the largest sexual abuse settlement in the US. [4]

“The Catholic church is not the only church.”

—Cardinal Roger Mahony’s response to a victim in the sex abuse scandal who suggested she had lost her faith. [5]

“Frolics of this kind may be the first step of initiation into the occult or demonic world.”

—Lucyna Sroczy´nska, from the Polish Education Supervision Office, in a memo to school principals advising them not to organize Halloween parties for students. [6]

Lopping off heads is not our first order of business.”

—Denver archbishop Charles Chaput thinks it may be one option for prochoice Catholic politicians. [7]

“If you are going to take a pragmatic view and say prostitution happens, I think there’s a need to make sure it’s as well-regulated as possible for the health of people involved and for the safety of the ladies themselves.”

—Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, England, explaining his support for legalizing brothels. [8]

“A society which lives for celebrity will destroy not only its celebrities, but itself.”

—Bishop of Limerick, Ireland, Donal Murray considers celebrity and
celebrity worship dangerous.

  1. Fraser Nelson, “Will Blair become a true Catholic?” The Spectator, November 28,
  2. “Why Technology Needs Ethics: Interview With Cardinal Lozano Barragán,”
    Zenit.org, October 5, 2007.
  3. “Heard in Passing,” Warsaw Voice, November 26, 2007.
  4. George Neumayr, “The Wages of Sin,” Catholic World Report, October 2007.
  5. George Neumayr, “The Wages of Sin,” Catholic World Report, October 2007.
  6. “Heard in Passing,” Warsaw Voice, November 14, 2007.
  7. Electa Draper, “Catholic Church in Colorado fights ‘evil’ in voting booth,” Denver Post, November 5, 2007.
  8. Al Webb, “RNS Daily Digest: ‘Pragmatic’ bishop supports legalized brothels,”
    Religious News Service, November 9, 2007.
  9. Senan Hogan and Gordon Deegan, “Being an Irish celebrity can be dangerous, warns bishop,” Irish Independent, November 7, 2007.

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