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CFFC in the News - 2004
Catholics Say Church Should Revise Age-Old Provisions
People from three Catholic-dominated countries believe the Church should start revising its age-old provisions to enable Catholics to adopt a healthier, flexible and plausible lifestyle.
This was the major conclusion gathered from the study of three Catholic-dominated countries, namely Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico. Entitled "Attitudes of Catholics on Reproductive Rights, Church-State, and Related Issues: Three National Surveys in Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico," the study was commissioned by Catholics For a Free Choice (CFFC) and its partner organisations in the three countries. CFFC is an independent not-for-profit social justice organisation engaged in research, policy analysis, education and advocacy on issues of gender equality and reproductive health.
Catholics comprise 95 percent of the population in Bolivia, 90 percent in Colombia; and 89 percent in Mexico. The study was conducted in the latter half of 2003 with the aim of capturing what Catholics really think of the Church's stand on issues affecting their daily lives. Specifically, the study focused on the respondents' opinions on the Church's stand on sexual and reproductive health. In particular, the Vatican has long been promoting abstinence and natural family planning (rhythm) method for Catholics and has shunned artificial contraception. Reproductive health issues such as these have been a very sensitive area of discussion for Catholics for ages. Opinions on the Church's influence in politics and education were also gathered and studied.
Overall, the respondents said they do not agree with the Church's stand on sexual and reproductive rights, specifically its ban on artificial contraception. They said present realities such as the issue of HIV/AIDS, for instance, as well as population boom should be considered. Catholics do what they think is right, believing it is not necessary to follow the Church's ideas when these come in conflict with theirs. Many admit their sexual health practices deviate from what the Church expects of them, but they still choose to follow their own decisions and not let religion get in the way.
Roberto J. Blancarte, a leading Mexican sociologist of religion and a former staff member at the Mexican Office of Foreign Affairs for the Vatican, said the landscape is the same for Mexico. "Before, Catholics were more afraid of what the bishops and the Church were saying; now, they are deciding for themselves. What we see is a more mature society and a more democratic one in which the most important guide is the individual conscience, not the institution of the Church. What we also see is how isolated the bishops are from society and from faithful Catholics." This point was reiterated in the area of contraceptive use, where respondents said being a "good Catholic" has nothing to do with how they express their sexuality and how they use contraceptives.
Aside from sexual and reproductive health, Catholics also strongly oppose the Church's "participation" in political affairs. They believe political leaders should "lead and govern on the basis of a diversity of opinions among their constituents rather than on the basis of the teachings of the Catholic Church." Experts hope the study's findings will be useful in policy making especially in the areas like Latin America where the Vatican lobbies against reproductive rights. Catholics also oppose the Church's practise of endorsing or denouncing political candidates during elections.
On the positive side, Catholics believe the Church still plays a major role in the humanitarian and spiritual aspects of their lives. But apart from that, they believe the Church is "meddling" in affairs that should not be its primary concern. Thus, experts and advocates say the Vatican should stop its practise of "representing all Catholics" since these Catholics do not necessarily share the Church's views after all.
However, this still happens, as evident in the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994 and its subsequent review sessions. María Consuelo Mejía, the director of Catholics For A Free Choice in Mexico concurs: "These findings expose the reality that not all Catholics in Latin America accept or follow the positions the Vatican advocates in policy making arenas. At the Cairo conference and during reviews of the Programme of Action, the Vatican has always claimed to speak for 1 billion Catholics world-wide. The truth is that they do not."
Source: "Catholics in Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico Respect Church But Reject Its Positions on Critical Issues" as released last 09 March 2004 by Catholics for A Free Choice and posted at <http://www.planetwire.org/details/4584>. The full report can be viewed at <http://www.planetwire.org/files.fcgi/4585_Mar04CFFCReport.pdf>.
This article originally appeared in the April 2004 edition of We! News.