Day Two: What’s Going On? Where Is Everybody?

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

11 August 2009

The opening plenary was a disaster even for the WCF supporters. C-FAM President Austin Ruse tweeted this morning noting that there were only about 50 people at the opening ceremony. “What’s going on? Where is everybody?” he asked.

One of the morning session speakers was Moira Chimombo, a contributing writer for the abstinence curriculum “Why Wait?” and Executive Director of Sub-Saharan Africa Family Enrichment (SAFE), who was celebrating her 36th wedding anniversary with her husband today.  Of course, the audience cheered with the announcement of this news.  Chimombo spoke about a family approach to HIV prevention. To end the AIDS epidemic in Africa, she stressed, we need the family approach. We need both virginity (which is a state) and abstinence (which is a choice). She received another round of applause when she stated that the secular world ignores the role of virginity before and abstinence within marriage. She repeated twice that we need to espouse a biblical worldview and add a “Christ-like character, embracing self-control and commitment” to abstinence before marriage.

With tears in her eyes she gave the example of a woman who had been infected with HIV by her unfaithful husband, took care of him on his death bed and “brought him to Christ” by forgiving him for what he had done to her. She went on to describe the implementation of the “Why Wait?” life skills program, which enables “students to master their moral skills”.

During the first action session on strengthening families in poverty, led by a Polish antichoice activist couple Lech and Ewa Kowaleska, former Senator Francisco Tatad of the Philippines commented on President Obama’s lifting of the Global Gag Rule and called the decision an “assault.” He painted a dark picture of the postmodern world plagued with “drunken divorcees and teenage pregnancies” and went on to complain that the average family size in the Philippines is five people (2 parents and 3 children) and is continually declining.  He boasted about Filipino measures, such as a national constitution protecting the “life of the unborn,” banning divorce and same-sex unions. He believed that these measures have helped keep “most of our young men and women chaste.” At the end of his speech, he praised the church hierarchy in the Philippines for their work opposing the Reproductive Health bill but accused foreign organizations of trying to disrupt their work.

Tobias Teuscher, adviser to Anna Zaborska, former chair of the Women’s Rights Committee in the European Parliament, gave a speech on the role of mothers and communities in fighting extreme poverty. He spoke in true EU-style, avoiding controversial statements. He made a point of defending the right of women living in poverty to realize their role of mothers.

The next speaker, Constantin Asavoaie, member of the National Council of the Romanian Orthodox Church and chair of an NGO Prison Fellowship in Romania, spoke on the economic stability of families. He called himself a “criminal” for asking his wife to have an abortion when she got pregnant for the third time, as in Romania a family, in his view, was to have only two children.

The other workshop session concerned the influence of modern media on family life. The first speaker, Ted Baehr, is publisher of the Movieguide Magazine, which is described as “a family guide to entertainment…dedicated to redeeming the values of the mass media.” He demanded “positive” movies instead of films from Hollywood and claimed that media influence leads to the reduction of book reading and the prevalence of child behavior problems. He complained about the “tremendous loss of culture” related to media impact and blamed the media for creating a negative image of Americans in the world. As an example of bad influence he recalled the movie “Twilight.” Surprisingly, it was not the occult content that bothered him the most but the character of the daughter who “disobeyed her father.” Baehr was pretty optimistic about solving the Hollywood problem but the independent movie industry may, in his opinion, be more immune to change.

Brent Bozelle, Catholic president of Media Research Council, denounced media as untrustworthy. He quoted research saying that television and addiction to computer games made children weak and sick.

The afternoon plenary commenced with two reasonable, statistics-based speeches about the situation in the developing countries.  Professor Rekha Pande from the Center of Women’s Studies in India focused on South Asia and India, where the discrimination of girls and women is common. She discussed the problems of early child marriage, gender violence and gender stereotypes. She stated that in India “everyone is pro-family.”

His Majesty Drolor Bosso Adamtey I, the Suapolor of the Se (Shai) Traditional Area in Ghana, talked about the absence of fathers due to labor migration. He described daily problems men in his country face while trying to provide for the family and the effects of their absence. He was one of the few speakers of the congress who did not limit themselves to ideological and theoretical lecturing but suggested the WCF energy be used to act and change the situation.

Richard Land, who used to work as advisor to the governor of Texas on moral issues and is current president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke on the role of churches in keeping families together. He quoted a question from a New York Times reporter about church and state separation, to which he answered that the government ought to reflect the changes in society. To him, if society promotes “Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority,” the government will have to reflect that.

The speech of Rene Bullecer, described by the WCF website as an “anti-abortion crusader,” was read out by Joseph Meaney from Human Life International. Bullecer suggested that fight against AIDS is best handled through the promotion of “pro-chastity” solutions. He added that he would start promoting condom use immediately if there was a condom with 100 percent effectiveness. He explained that “taking religious values seriously” resulted in only 4,000 reported HIV infections in the Philippines.

Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute explored the issue of preference for male babies. He called sex-selective abortions “gendercide,” claiming that he adopted the term from “the other side of this issue.” Mosher attributed high prevalence of prostitution, increasing cases of rape and (yes) homosexuality to the shortage of “women in marriageable age.” He called it a bitter irony that abortion, which is treated as key to theliberation of women, has become a form of eliminating them through sex-selection of fetuses.

Don Feder, WCF Communications Director, had a different approach to the baby boomer generation, calling them selfish consumers who care about things “almost beyond our control” like the ozone layer and neglect their own families. He criticized sex education and mocked the decision to terminate a pregnancy saying that teenagers are having abortions in the US because the belly would destroy the line of their prom dress. “We are allowing the slaughter of 42 million unborn children every year,” he said. He complained that today we marry because we choose to, not because we ought to. Feder concluded that there was a direct relation between church attendance and birth rates. He claimed he had not met a family with more than three children which did not have the foundation in some faith.

John Mueller of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington entitled his speech “How Nations Choose ‘Demographic Winter’: Is America Doing So?” He compared abortion to crime, saying that the rates of both drop with higher church attendance. The US cannot have both legal abortion and stable social security system, he maintained.

Pierre Hernalsteen from a Flemish natural family planning organization and father of five, concluded the session with the condemnation of contraception as a way to turn a woman into a sex object. He complained that contraception, distributed for free to girls after their first menstruation, leads to promiscuity.  His proposition for developing countries was the promotion of fertility awareness methods, neglecting to acknowledge the fast spread of HIV and other STIs in these countries.

The workshop on HIV/AIDS and the Family was surprisingly uncontroversial, perhaps due to the fact that most of the speakers were Dutch. The most conservative was the chair, Sharon Slater of the US organization Families for Orphans, who maintained that the use of condoms contributes to the spread of HIV as people put their trust in protection which is not 100 percent effective. To make things worse, she added that the promotion of condom use was a plot of certain people in the United Nations who try to manipulate the population into using condoms and to promote homosexuality.

Arend Huitzing, advisor to the Dutch CABA (Children Affected By AIDS) working group, gave a very informative lecture on HIV/AIDS in Africa. He stressed that the EU was not involved in the issue of HIV prevention. He was less orthodox than most of the Dutch speakers who believe that the only method of stopping the pandemic is to promote abstinence until marriage, stating that there is no ideal method to overcome the spread of the disease.

Bep van Sloten, independent consultant and trainer in child and youth care issues, agreed that the church has a great task in helping those affected by HIV/AIDS.  He also stated that at time there are negative messages sent to children who have lost their parents due to AIDS, resulting in low self-esteem. She made a recommendation that AIDS orphans should obtain help in the place where they live and not be moved to another environment.

Josien de Klerk from the University of Amsterdam rounded out our day with a bit of common sense.  She stressed that that it is a decision of an individual whether to use condoms or not.  She went on to tell the true tale that in Africa, as in everywhere in the world, caring mothers or grandmothers would give the teenagers a condom “just in case,” allowing them to decide.

In case anyone shows up tomorrow, the congress will be working on finalizing the Final Declaration of Amsterdam. Today, they passed out a top secret draft of the declaration and its tenets come as no surprise: marriage is between a man and a woman; abortion is wrong; only abstinence and being faithful will prevent the transmission of HIV; and so on.

WCF Media Coverage

De Dagelijkse Standaard: Rouvoet naar het gezinscongres

NRC: Dutch minister in controversy over family congress

The Washington Times: WETZSTEIN: Conferees rebut population fears

Catholics for Choice