Worse than a Bad Dream
13 May 2007
After another ten hours at the World Congress of Families, one would be forgiven for thinking that the organizers wanted to brainwash participants into thinking the world was going rapidly to hell in a hand-basket. Even the weather turned from bright and sunny to dark and dank during the day--and the world view presented by the speakers became grimmer every hour.
Patrick Fagan, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary, addressed us as would a very strict and uncompromising father. It seems that the only women who can call themselves truly monogamous are those who have had just one partner throughout their entire life (their husband naturally!). Supporting his views with alarming graphs and statistics, he warned teenage girls that if they have multiple partners, they are more likely to divorce and have an abortion. He also linked frequency of church attendance with almost every aspect of teenagers' lives, going so far as to claim that children from the most religious families achieve the best results in school. In Fagan's vision of the world, even fetuses express distinct views, metaphorically saying to their parents, "I did not ask to come into existence. You brought me into existence and now you owe me." The audience, which included many Polish participants, especially priests and nuns, perhaps unsurprisingly was very eager to applaud Fagan's vision of Poland as the country with the "vocation to lead the rest of Europe," that would do so with the help of "a good government, fed by the worship of God." His assessment of the Polish authorities is not shared by all Poles, with almost 50% considering that the conservative-populist government is doing a bad job.
The next speaker, Ms. Christine de Vollmer, a member of the Pontifical Pro-life Academy and the Pontifical Council for the Family, presented an innovative interpretation of the original motives of the suffragette movement. (It's somewhat strange that the WCF program used the Ms. form of address for female speakers instead of Mrs. which might better stress their commitment to marriage and family.) She claimed that they fought for fair wages for their husbands so that wives could "leave the factories and stay home to care for their children." De Vollmer was also very critical towards second wave feminists who, she claimed, regarded motherhood as a degrading waste of their lives. She somewhat exaggerated their influence, claiming they managed to take international agencies and the European Union "by storm" and convert them to their views. She also condemned modern childcare methods, comparing them to Soviet-era experiments and ignoring the benefits that free and accessible childcare give women. Despite her claims, many women of all political inclinations in Poland would openly welcome government-subsidized kindergartens and have said so repeatedly.
The next speaker, Mr. Jacek Pulikowski, spoke in favor of premarital chastity and an increased involvement for fathers in families. He packed his speech with vaguely humorous and definitely sexist anecdotes. He too used many grim metaphors, calling a woman's womb "a field of mass destruction," and urging women to stop rebelling against male power, since by winning independence they lose their "natural protectors." Pulikowski was not afraid to deride the "stupidity" of women and gave an interesting explanation as to why women say they have a headache when they don't want to have sex. It seems that women use contraceptives because they are afraid to have a child and thus internalize a fear of children. This causes them to block out or lose interest in sex, and gives them headaches. Pulikowski's ideal woman is a kind of trophy for a man returning tired from work. If he's a good provider for the family, she will reward him by initiating intercourse. He must have reached many male listeners with this message as some gave him a standing ovation.
A session examining "The attack on marriage as a union of man and woman" featured five speakers, all of them men, one of them priest, at least one other also unmarried. Rev. Dariusz Oko used the word homosexual more often than we hear it from ultraconservative Polish minister Roman Giertych-even in his most emotional speeches. Oko started with a bit of hope for the "poor and often sick people"-by which he meant homosexuals-saying that the younger ones can be healed and have normal families. The remaining part of his presentation was again very dark and intimidating. He quoted "medical data"-now completely debunked-claiming that gay people's lives are up to 20 years shorter than that of heterosexuals and that 28% of U.S. gays admit to having more than 1,000 partners-while the rest settle for a mere 100 or more partners.
Other speakers spoke in a similar tone about homosexuality, but conservative lawyer Benjamin Bull could not resist introducing the race issue, claiming that some 26% of children born out of wedlock in the U.S. have white mothers, while 69% have African-American mothers. Lynn Wardle, on the other hand, seemed to go off-message in praising Muslim family values. A theme regularly repeated by conference sponsors is that if Europeans do not produce enough children, we will be replaced by Muslim immigrants who tend to have larger families. Wardle, however, expressed hope that the traditional views on marriage and family represented by Muslims will help turn Europe back from its road to "complete liberalism."
The former Speaker of the Polish parliament Marek Jurek appeared at the congress for a second time to address the rights of the "unborn child." His own support for amending the Polish Constitution to protect human life from the moment of conception led him to resign as Speaker after the amendment was defeated. Now Jurek is busy organizing a new party, Prawica Rzeczpospolitej-The Right-wing of the Republic. The name of his newly established party is very much in line with his reasoning. For Jurek, the world of politics should be composed only of conservatives who agree with him. People who do not agree that life should be protected from the moment of conception should not be allowed into politics. He too received a standing ovation.
John Smeaton, leader of the British antichoice organization the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, spoke about the influence of the Tony Blair government on British social and moral life. Again, his tone was apocalyptic and he accused Blair of allowing young girls in Catholic schools to have induced abortions (referring to the distribution of emergency contraception) and spoke with disgust about condom training during sex education classes. Another speaker at the session, Janice Crouse, a former presidential speech writer, argued that it's better to be a married high school dropout than an unmarried woman with a higher level of education. (She "clarified" this by stating that it meant the birth weight of your offspring would be higher.) Ms. Crouse then went on to present her own interpretation of gender equality as being the promotion of lesbianism and forced equality.
I ended the second and last full day of the congress walking around the exhibition hall, examining the booths. Polish organizations represented there included a sponsor of the conference, the Piotr Skarga Association, which is so conservative that even the archbishop of Cracow refuses to recognize it. The group, among other things, protested against a tolerance march in Cracow by claiming homosexuality was "a filthy sin of sodomy" and promoted boot camps for young boys, during which teenagers were taught to hate minorities.
The apocalyptical visions presented today must have upset me. When I took a short nap before writing today's report I dreamt of mad people approaching me and attacking me. Not to wish ill on anybody, I hope that the schoolchildren who helped organize the event and attended the sessions in large numbers have similar dreams. What I heard today is worthy of bad dreams.
For examples of how the mainstream media has been covering the event, see:
- David Crary, "U.S. conservatives organize social-issues congress in Poland," Associated Press, May 9.
- Matthew Hay Brown, "Sauerbrey's plans draw opposition," Baltimore Sun, April 22.
- Day One: A Small Show and an Embarrassing No-Show
- Day Three: Back on Message, WCF Still Fails to Inspire
- Brief biographies of key Catholic speakers
- In Their Own Words: Quotes from the conference
Piotr Skarga Association: http://www.piotrskarga.pl
Marek Jurek's New Party: http://www.prawicarp.pl/