Day Three Report: The Family in Crisis? Not So Much

Catholics for Choice Report on Day Three, World Congress of Families 2009

12 August 2009

At the start of the first plenary session, attended by less than 200 participants, Catholic Bishop Wim Eijk stressed that the care of family continues to be the responsibility of women. He reminded the audience, as if they needed any reminder, that contraception is considered “intrinsically evil” by the church hierarchy.  He went on to deliver a lecture in basic theological matters, such as the nature of humans as created in the image of God and the importance of marriage. He criticized the right to abortion, saying that human life starts at conception and “self-determination of a woman is misunderstood to dispose of a life of a child in the womb.”  As the bishop was speaking, a few stragglers joined the measly crowd, some 45 minutes after the scheduled beginning of the session.

The next panel began with Austin Ruse of C-FAM who boasted that his prolife and pro-family coalition has “largely stopped the homosexual movement in the UN.”  However, he was equally critical of the conservative family movement, stating that they have neglected to thwart the work of “UN radicals” who “seek to decide for all of mankind the most intimate details of our lives.”  He praised Pope John Paul II, whom he called John Paul the Great, for helping hinder the attempts to introduce universal reproductive rights, which, in his opinion, is a codeword for abortion.

Ruse gave himself a pat on the back for C-FAM’s work monitoring the “aggressive pro-abortion nature of many UN committees,” especially the CEDAW committee. He described the CEDAW committee as a “group of largely unknown private citizens who respond to no one but themselves.”  Moreover, he noted that “radical homosexual groups” have caused a situation where one cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. He threatened that soon “homosexual propaganda will be taught to young children” and governments will be forced to mandate homosexual marriage.  According to Ruse, the US Supreme Court has made “homosexual sodomy a constitutional right.” His appeal to challenge radicals, which rang out like a rather desperate call to war, met with a standing ovation from the audience.

John Mueller read out the paper of András Gábos, Senior Researcher at TÁRKI Social Research Institute in Budapest, on the place of family in government policies. The presentation rebutted some of the statements made yesterday by other speakers. For example, it showed that Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Denmark, condemned as radically leftist, spend more on child benefits than the traditional Catholic countries like Italy or Malta.

In the thematic session on family and ethics, Dr. Byron Calhoun, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the West Virginia University-Charleston, spoke about a case of anecephaly, a disease which causes the fetus not to develop part of the brain and sometimes even skull, discovered in an 18-week old fetus.  Instead of encouraging the woman to terminate the pregnancy, doctors convinced her to continue the pregnancy and deliver a stillborn even though there was no chance of saving the newborn—all for the sake of having a “natural family.” He interrupted the presentation to show personal pictures of his family, including his daughter who is disabled and elderly mother, who, as he put it, would have been aborted or subjected to euthanasia in families who do not represent the traditional, “natural” viewpoint.

Janet Morana, Executive Director of Priests for Life and the co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, said the “idea that abortion somehow helps women will be remembered as the greatest hoax.”  She called for a “new feminism” through which women can express open regret for their abortions. In a solemn voice she talked about the post-abortion syndrome, which, she asserted, can even lead to suicide. She repeated the misconception that birth control pills cause early abortion.

Anthony Ozimic, political secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the United Kingdom, gave Catholics for Choice a shout out from the main conference platform in recognition of our daily reporting from the congress.  Ozimic seems to think that because most Catholics disagree with the dictates of the church hierarchy on matters related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, we are somehow “fake Catholics.” Seems the only real Catholics, in his opinion, are the small minority who agree with his worldview.

Henk Jochemsen, director of Prisma, an association of Christian organizations in development cooperation, discussed the issue of palliative care and euthanasia. He made a distasteful joke about choices related to dying: A woman says to a sick man, “Do you want to die with dignity or shall I call your doctor?” In his view, the availability of euthanasia puts excessive pressure on sick patients.

The highlight of the second panel on family and work was Dorothy Patterson, a professor of theology, who describes herself as “first and foremost a homemaker.” The presentation of this proud Texan, who donned a Texan hat throughout the meeting, can be described as an overemotional glorification of motherhood. She condemned women who sacrifice too much of their energy for paid work when they ought to devote themselves to motherhood, relying on the principles in the Bible.  Patterson was so overwhelmed from talking about her family commitments that she began to sob.

During lunch break there was a second screening of the movie “Demographic Bomb.” The film presents the Holocaust as a key example of destructive population control policies.  Obviously, the conference organizers were once again asserting the indefensible comparison between abortion (and contraception) and the tragedy of the genocide under Hitler—a low point even for the WCF.

In the last plenary of the congress, Dr. Pat Fagan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Family and Religion at the Family Research Council, described his quirky, dualistic vision of the society: people who practice monogamy and those who practice “polymorphous serial polygamy.” Unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease were called results of “sexuality gone wrong.”  Monogamous culture understands freedom as the freedom to be good and polyamory as the “freedom to do what you like.” He said that polyamorous culture relies on the welfare state to rescue it from destructive forms of sexuality and cultivates strong girls at the cost of weaker boys.

Fagan was sure to add in a healthy dose of fear, as well. He suggested that by controlling education of children, sex education and adolescent healthcare influenced by the entertainment industry, the polyamory culture has been able to survive and thrive. Those who support polyamory are also “snatching” the children of monogamous culture by luring them to have sex outside marriage.  The superhero “Monogamous Man,” Fagan concluded, will in the future be expected to fight for families and the “future depends on men.”

Janice Crouse, senior fellow at Concerned Women for America, posed these questions: Can one be happy without a husband? Can children be happy without a father? She used the presentation to show off her achievements and advertise her new book (“coming this fall,” yeah!). “Erosion of Judeo-Christian values” was listed among the factors harming children and she referred to single parenting as an “epidemic.”

The speech of Christine Vollmer, member of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was uneventful and uninteresting, given her absolute redundancy. She said that, in today’s society, the teaching of values is regarded judgmental and therefore avoided. In her opinion, lack of values-based education “leads to broken lives,” makes cities more dangerous and schools more chaotic.

Dr. Russell M. Nelson was introduced as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and surgeon who has ten children and 57 grandchildren. Not surprisingly, this information was cause for yet another standing ovation. He warned that people who selfishly decide not to have children “will be alone and unloved” in their old age.

“All good things must end,” said Allan Carlson, founder of WCF, and thus began the final session. Most of the audience enjoyed a prolonged break in the coffee room as he read the much-shortened Declaration of Amsterdam and concluded with a note that the statement may not necessarily reflect individual views of speakers and delegates. This was somewhat odd for a document voted upon by the audience with a loud “aye”.

Larry Jacobs, Vice President of The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, led the last panel, composed solely of politicians, some of who made some shockingly liberal allegations. Miriam Sterk of the Dutch ruling coalition party, CDA, said—much to the audience’s surprise—that while her party draws their values from the Bible, they also believe that same-sex couples willing to raise children with love and compassion can also be family. The listeners must have regretted the initial applause they gave at her statement of being a mother of only two children. She made a slight suggestion that the views of the WCF organizers are regarded as extreme, which could be seen in the media discussion over Minister Rouvoet.

Joel Voordewind of the Dutch Christian Union suggested that WCF participants bring their family members to the meeting so that the issues of family life could be better analyzed.  He also took a more liberal position on the use of condoms, especially for couples where one is HIV-positive.

Kees van der Staaij, Dutch MP of the Reformed Political Party (SGP), was more in line with the views of WCF organizers and was awarded with a generous standing ovation. He expressed support for the Declaration of Amsterdam and admitted that because of holding such conservative views his party is not very popular in the Netherlands.

During the final discussion, the Dutch politicians were asked what means were needed to reduce the number of abortions—a strange question in the country with the lowest rate of abortion in Europe. Mirjam Sterk said that, although her party did not strive to liberalize the abortion law, there were cases such as fetal disease or rape where abortion should be allowed. Sterk strongly denied the claims of Larry Jacobs that the elderly people may not be safe in the Netherlands because of legal euthanasia, calling the statement “a caricature.” Voordewind said policies cannot only focus on encouraging women to stay at home with their children but also encourage men to share the responsibility. The converted-trying-to-convert-the-converted atmosphere of the past two days was finally interrupted, although these liberal assertions caused loud comments of dissatisfaction from the audience.

The World Congress of Families V is now over.  The participants are exchanging final hugs and taking pictures together.  They will need them to prove to their (probably) large families that they have actually been here.  For a family conference, there were surprisingly few young children and babies to be seen and according to the congress material no childcare options were available.

Conclusion and Reflection on WCF V

At Catholics for Choice, we believe in the family. In contrast to the doom and gloom which clouded WCF V, we believe that families around the world are strong, vibrant and essential.

Today, gay and lesbian couples are raising and bringing marvelous children into our world, single fathers are creating nurturing and loving environments for their sons and daughters, women are balancing being super mothers with playing leading roles in business, civil society and politics and, of course, there are plenty of heterosexual men and women who freely choose married life and decide the number and spacing of their children according to their life’s circumstances and desires.

This congress asserted a skewed perception of the superiority of—what they deem to be—a natural family. They pretend that other manifestations of family that do not meet their narrow definitions are somehow unnatural or wrong. They act as if other loving families that do not adhere to their particular worldview are a threat to their own way of life. Many abhor a secular society that guarantees freedom of religion and freedom from religion in favor of theocracies where there is only one way or one choice. Most damagingly, they seek to enact laws that would undercut and undermine the rights of others to live life as they see fit.

In the plenary final session, it was clear that the promise of a global, action-oriented, conservative movement for the family has dismally failed. Absent from the congress were the Catholic church hierarchy, conservative intellectuals, conservative policymakers and the media mavens of the ultraconservative right. At the congress’ gathering in Geneva, they dreamed of creating a global movement.  However, now, as they said themselves, the congress is merely a place for a ragtag army who share a worldview of intolerance to network and attempt to gain succor from their tales of woe.

We do not question for a minute the right of these ultraconservative traditionalists to gather and express their dissent. In our secular society, we believe in the competition of ideas and the freedom of expression.  This belief extends to all worldviews, even those expressed in the congress. We uphold our right to challenge these worldviews, especially when they seek to deny the rights and liberties of others. We take seriously our responsibility and our right to question and challenge political leaders who agree with the tenets of this congress which would deny liberty and justice for all.

The organizers of the World Congress of Families have uploaded videos of the various sessions to their Web site.  If you want a good taste of the congress, we recommend that you watch the final plenary session.  As noted above, Pat Fagan, Janice Crouse, Christine Vollmer and Russell Nelson spoke during this session.  And while no real action came out of it, we found that the speakers provide a good framing for the congress.