In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup


Summer 2007


In this Issue:


The Church and Abortion
The Church and Contraception 
The Church and Condoms
The Church and Homosexuality
The Church and State
Sex Abuse Update 
End Notes



The Church and Abortion


Mexico City to Legalize Abortion; Bishops Outraged
The Mexico City Legislative Assembly voted in April to legalize abortion, after one of the most intense debates of its kind in Mexico. There was blanket coverage of the debate in the media, with a significant number of editorials appearing in support of reform. Polls running before the vote showed that more than 70 percent of women supported the move.

The Catholic hierarchy was vituperative in its opposition, with some extremely aggressive statements against prochoice proponents. A spokesperson for the Catholic hierarchy, Fr. Hugo Valdemar, said that those who support decriminalization of abortion were “child killers,” and specifically that Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir should be renamed “murderers for the right to kill children!” One antichoice group, the Mexican National Guard, demanded the death penalty for those who support abortion. An auxiliary bishop in Mexico City, Marceline Hernandez, said that once abortion was legalized, every legislator who voted in favor would be automatically excommunicated—a threatthat has no basis in canon law. While the final vote was delayed several times, the bill included access to abortion in the first trimester and the provision of sexuality education and contraception. Some 1 million illegal abortions are carried out throughout Mexico each year.

Portuguese President Signs Legal Abortion Law
In a referendum on February 11, Portuguese voters approved a measure to allow abortions until the
tenth week of pregnancy. While turnout was too low to make the result binding, the government immediately stepped in and passed a law to approve the measure, which was signed by the
president in April.

The campaign over the referendum was hard-fought, with prochoice activists pitted against the steadfast opposition of the church hierarchy. In a vitriolic campaign, various conservative groups threatened anybody who supported decriminalization with excommunication. While the hierarchy avoided making such direct threats, claiming it merely wanted to “serenely enlighten consciences,” individual priests did not shy away from the ultimate sanction, with one claiming that abstaining from the vote was “the very greatest of mortal sins” and would preclude a religious burial. Various bishops also issued similarly intemperate statements, calling abortion an “abominable crime,” similar to “capital punishment” and an “attack on civilization.”

In the referendum itself, almost 60 percent of voters approved the move, in a turnout of some 44 percent. The low turnout is not surprising, with declining participation in referenda across Europe over the past 10 years or so. However, the same time frame has also seen a serious decline in the influence of the Catholic hierarchy, with legislative and constitutional changes the hierarchy opposed passing in Spain, Ireland, Italy and now Portugal, among others.

Amnesty International U.K. Votes to Support
Some Abortion Rights in March, members of the United Kingdom branch of Amnesty International voted at their annual conference in Edinburgh to include access to safe, legal abortion in the list of rights that Amnesty supports and advocates for globally. The vote is the latest in a consultation by
Amnesty International to gauge the will of its members on the issue; until now, the organization has maintained a neutral stance with respect to abortion access.

While some conservative Catholics sought to suggest that the move to support abortion rights would be unpopular among Catholics, that sentiment was not reflected in the final vote. The majority of Catholics support access to safe, legal abortion and family planning services and, to give just one
example, more than half of all Catholics in the U.K. believe that abortion is acceptable in cases of fetal abnormality.

U.S. Bishops Admonish Catholic Theologian
The United States bishops’ Committee on Doctrine has offered a “public correction” to Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire, who teaches religious ethics at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution
in Milwaukee. The correction stems from two pamphlets he sent to U.S. bishops last year, The Moderate Roman Catholic Position on Contraception and Abortion and A Catholic Defense of Same-Sex Marriage, which note that Catholic thought includes more than the hierarchy’s position on these issues. Speaking to the New York Times, Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, executive director for the bishops’
doctrine committee, said, “The big concern was that the pamphlets are written in a very popular and lively style, and from what the bishops knew, they were very widely distributed.”

In a letter to Marquette in Maguire’s defense, feminist theologian and regular Conscience contributor Mary Hunt wrote, “Maguire makes careful distinctions between what is official Church teaching and what is equally important and equally Catholic theological wisdom. They are not always the same.… As a graduate of Marquette’s theology department, I learned about a rich and textured theological tradition that is lived out among adherents in a variety of ways.… This is the rough and tumble of ideas in which the ‘false teaching’ is that there is one and only one Catholic view on life’s complex questions. Marquette University will undoubtedly endow the Daniel C. Maguire Chair in Catholic Moral Theology in years to come.”

Polish Government Rejects Total Ban
Despite intense pressure from conservative Catholic organizations and continued campaigning by the Catholic hierarchy, the Polish government decided against incorporating a total ban on abortion into the Polish constitution. The fundamentalist Radio Maryja, which even Vatican officials had decried on occasion for regular anti-Semitic content, was a major supporter of the move, which was proposed by the junior partner in the Polish government, the League of Polish Families. On noting the lack of support from Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Radio Maryja called the presidential palace a “cesspit,” and stated that it was reconsidering its support for the government.

Poland already has some of the most extreme antiabortion laws in Europe, and its laws were recently the subject of a critical ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which stated that Poland had violated the rights of Alicja Tysiac when it denied her an abortion. For the full story, see page 34.

Australian Government gives $34 million to Catholic Counselors
The Australian government has announced a plan to give US$34 million to Centacare, a health and welfare charity run by the Catholic hierarchy to provide counseling to women considering abortion.
The move may lead to a similar debate as happened in Germany in 1998. Then, the Vatican instructed German bishops to stop issuing counseling certificates in churchsponsored counseling centers for pregnant women, leading to a years-long debate about what role the counseling centers should play. In addition, the move has raised concerns among some Australian politicians that the current conservative government, under Prime Minister John Howard, is intent on pursuing a faith–based agenda like that seen under President George W. Bush in the U.S. Eva Cox of the Women’s Electoral Lobby argued that as the Catholic hierarchy is implacably opposed to abortion, it was entirely wrong to have its representatives involved in counseling, as women needed neutral voices to help them make decisions.

U.S. Catholic Opinion on Abortion Shifting
Results of an ABC news/Washington Post poll showed the consolidation of the prochoice position among the U.S. public. A significant majority of Americans said abortion should be available and legal, albeit to varying degrees. Catholics demonstrated a more pronounced shift toward the center than the general population.

Overall, the poll found that 56 percent of Americans think that abortion should be generally legal, with a minority saying it should be legal only in rare cases (31%) or not at all (12%), almost precisely matching the averages in previous ABC News/Washington Post polls since 1995.

The number of Catholics who agree with the bishops and state that abortion should be illegal in all cases has dropped from 17 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2007.

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The Church and Contraception

UNFPA Calls on Hierarchy to Change Stance The United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines called on the Catholic hierarchy to reconsider its stance against contraception after the findings of a poll showed that almost all Filipinos disagreed with the ban.

The Pulse Asia survey of 1,800 respondents found that 89 percent of Filipinos think that the government should pay for modern methods of family planning, including the pill, intrauterine devices, condoms, tubal ligation and vasectomy. A further 44 percent think that the hierarchy should not interfere with population issues, and 76 percent wanted candidates for parliament to include family planning in their manifestos.

Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation, said that the results showed that politicians have everything to gain if they support reproductive health issues when running for elected office.

In a letter to the Manila Standard, CFFC president Jon O’Brien noted, “The hierarchy has thus far been unwilling to either listen to the voices of Catholics or respond to the actions of Catholics who routinely ignore church teachings on matters related to sexual health and reproductive rights…. The position of the hierarchy is clearly irresponsible, and we must hope and pray that they come to their
senses soon, before too many more lives are lost.”

UNFPA reports showed that there are almost 1.5 million unintended pregnancies in the Philippines each year, with about 473,000 ending in abortion.

Divergent Policies on Emergency Contraception
The Catholic hierarchy in Australia has stated that women going to Catholic hospitals after being raped may not be referred to sexual assault units that supply emergency contraception (EC). In response, a Melbourne doctor, Sally Cockburn, said that women who have been raped should not be taken to Catholic hospitals if that was to be the policy, and a rape crisis spokeswoman said it would be negligent not to offer the treatment.

However, in Hartford, Conn., women’s advocates and the local bishop have been negotiating a compromise with local politicians so that a new law does not include a requirement that Catholic hospitals provide emergency contraception, but will allow some women to be prescribed the post-sex
method of contraception at Catholic hospitals. Emergency contraception works best if taken within three days of unprotected sex. Catholic hospitals in Connecticut would contract out post-rape examinations and subsequent provision of EC. The archbishop of Hartford, Henry J. Mansell, said, “We are not opposed to emergency contraception for women who are victims of rape.”

Catholic teachings allow for the use of EC. Often cited as a major obstacle to the provision of EC in Catholic hospitals is the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services—rules that govern the provision of services in all 600 U.S. Catholic hospitals.

Directive 36 addresses the use 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.” Thus, the directive
permits the use of EC when a woman “is the victim of sexual assault” and “after appropriate testing there is no indication that she is pregnant.” The guideline, while well-intentioned, is complex, if not confusing and ambiguous. Catholic ethicists within hospital systems and in the academic community are not in agreement regarding the implementation of the directive. Each Catholic hospital is free to
interpret the directive and implement either a liberal or a conservative policy. Thus, the process is subject to theopolitical pressure, most often from conservative bishops and lay Catholic groups demanding strict application of Catholic teachings in Catholic hospitals. Sadly, recent surveys by Catholics for a Free Choice show that few Catholic hospitals provide EC, although the number is growing.

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The Church and Condoms

Brazilian Government Stands Firm on Condoms
In the months running up to the pope’s first visit to Latin America, the Brazilian government and the Catholic hierarchy have exchanged angry words over the government’s condom policy. Brazil has long been held up as having an excellent record in preventing the spread of HIV through sex education and the promotion of condom use.

“The use of the condom encourages people to have inconsequential and irresponsible sex,” claimed Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, on Globo TV. “We cannot agree with the use of the condom.”

“The government cannot base its public health policies on moral and religious principles,” replied Mariangela Simao, head the Health Ministry’s anti-aAIDS program, in a statement. “Promoting the use of condoms is and will continue being one of the main pillars of Brazil’s prevention policy.” She continued, “Policies to prevent AIDS are not ‘sex promotion,’ abstinence and self-control are intimate personal matters and can in no way serve as a basis for public policy.”

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The Church and Homosexuality

U.K. Church Loses Battle over Discrimination
After a lengthy and often bitter row, the British government decided against allowing Catholic adoption agencies to opt out of antidiscrimination laws that require them to consider suitable gay couples when looking at options for children seeking adoption. However, it has given such agencies almost two years to comply with new regulations that go into effect this spring.

The Catholic hierarchy fought hard against the law and at one stage appeared to have the upper hand, with a member of the British Cabinet who is a purported Opus Dei member, Ruth Kelly, supporting its stance. It appears that Prime Minister Tony Blair, an Anglican who often attends Catholic mass and may convert after he retires later this year, may have also supported the exemption.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, head of the hierarchy in England and Wales, wrote to the cabinet
supporting an exemption. However, in the runup to the debate in parliament, Archbishop Vincent Gerard Nichols of Birmingham let it slip in an interview with the BBC that British Catholic agencies had been placing children with homosexuals for years.

Lord Waheed Alli, the first openly gay member of the House of Lords, noted that Cardinal Murphy- O’Connor “remarked that the Catholic adoption agencies were prepared to allow adoption to single gay men and lesbians but not prepared to [allow adoption with] gay couples. That cannot be a principled position; it is irrational, ill-thought through and highly prejudicial.”

Married Lesbian Couple Excommunicated
A lesbian couple in Wyoming have been denied communion over their recent marriage in Canada. They subsequently wrote a letter to a local legislator, who opposed a bill that would deny recognition to such marriages, that was read out on the floor of the Wyoming legislature. When they were pictured in their local paper with ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday, the local priest informed them they were banned from receiving communion.

In his letter, the priest, Fr. Cliff Jacobson, wrote, “It is with a heavy heart, in obedience to the instruction of Bishop David Ricken, that I must inform you that, because of your union and your public advocacy of same-sex unions, that you are unable to receive Communion.”

One of the women, Leah Vader, told the Associated Press, “You spend half your time defending your gayness to Catholics, and the other half of your time defending your Catholicism to gays.”

Unitarians Banned from Parish Buildings
A Unitarian Universalist congregation has been banned from a New Jersey Catholic campus because it invited a gay rights advocate to address a service about his work with HeartStrong, an organization that provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals on religious campuses. Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., tried to evict the congregation immediately, but when it was informed that the lease required 90 days’ notice, it extended the eviction notice until that date. Jesse Connor, vice president of the congregation, said, “We were dismayed to see the response by the diocese to a program we felt was actually in line with their stated code of ethics, which includes reaching out to the gay and lesbian community.” She noted that the Catholic Campus Ministry Center’s Web site lists programs dealing with relationship enhancement, divorce ministry, and sexual minorities. Congregation president Paul Utts said, “We were shocked they would work that hard to try to silence a voice of compassion and tolerance when that is something they say they also support.”

Genoan Bishop Outrages Italians
Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, sparked controversy when he said granting rights to same-sex couples was the same as supporting incest and pedophilia.

According to the Italian daily La Repubblica, Archbishop Bagnasco, who is the leader of the bishops’ campaign against a bill being considered by parliament that would allow some rights to same-sex couples said, “Why say ‘no’ to forms of legally recognized cohabitation that create alternatives to the family? Why say ‘no’ to incest? Why say ‘no’ to the pedophile party in Holland?”

Graffiti condemning his statements appeared on his church, and police were stationed outside his palace.

Oscar Wilde Redeemed?
The Times of London reports that the Vatican may have decided to forgive Oscar Wilde, whom it previously regarded as a dissolute and disgraceful homosexual. Many of his witticisms have been included in a new collection of Christian maxims by the head of protocol at the Vatican, Fr. Leonardo Sapienza. Sapienza said that he had included Wilde in Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti–conformist Christianity because he was a “writer who lived perilously and somewhat scandalously but who has left us some razor-sharp maxims with a moral.” Wilde, who was born to Protestant parents in Dublin, once stated, “I am not a Catholic — I am simply a violent Papist.”

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The Church and State

Judge Rules Vatican Employees May Face Trial in the U.S.; Bush Grants Immunity to U.N. Representatives
A federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that a lawsuit against the Vatican may proceed, despite a law
that exempts foreign governments from actions taken in U.S. courts. The judge ruled that representatives of states cited in cases involving harm to individuals were not included in the exemption normally granted to them.

President George W. Bush signed a law granting diplomatic status to the Holy See’s representatives at the United Nations in New York City. While the Holy See is not a full member, it does hold permanent observer status. The law grants the Holy See’s representatives at the U.N. immunity from prosecution in the U.S.

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Sexual Abuse Update

2006 Audit Released
A study by the center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., that was published along with the U.S. bishops’ own 2006 audit on compliance with child  protection policies has shown that new cases of abuse continue to occur.

In 2006, there were 714 new allegations of abuse involving 710 victims and 448 offenders, of which 71 percent involved abuse that started before 1984. Seventeen of the newly reported cases involved young people who were minors in 2006.

The new cases occurred despite a 33 percent increase in the amount spent on child protection efforts by dioceses, to $25.6 million. Some $400 million was spent in 2006 on settlements, legal fees and other costs related to the scandal, which has cost the U.S. church more than $1.7 billion since 1950.

Bishop Gregory M. Aymond, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, called the sexual abuse scandal “our 9/11.”

  • The Diocese of San Diego has filed for bankruptcy so as to delay going to trial over some 140 lawsuits related to the crisis. It is the fifth diocese to take such action.
  • The Archdiocese of Denver has settled a case brought by 15 sexual abuse victims for some $1.6 million.
  • The Archdiocese of Washington has settled a lawsuit with 16 men who were abused between 1962 and 1982. The settlement, of about $81,000 per victim, was small compared with the $1.3 million average for a 2006 settlement in Los Angeles.

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End Notes

Bishop Decries German Pronatalist Policies
The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, has denounced a proposed policy that would make it easier for German women to have more children, claiming that expanding access to day care would do little more than turn women into “birthing machines.” Germany has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, and the minister for family and youth— Ursula von der Leyen, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Party and a mother of seven— hopes to encourage more families to have children by providing an additional 750,000 places in day care facilities by 2013 for children under three.

Deutsche Welle reports the bishop claimed that the government plan would be “harmful for children and families” because it would encourage women to return to work soon after giving birth. Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne agreed, stating that day care should be used only in “emergencies and exceptional cases.” However, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, bishop of Mainz and chairman of the German bishops’s conference, disagreed, saying he supports the government’s plan.

Australian Church Imposes Eulogy Limits
Cardinal George Pell has imposed a five-minute limit on eulogies at funeral masses and banned any references to sex or drinking. The new guidelines include the following: “On not a few occasions, inappropriate remarks glossing over the deceased’s proclivities (drinking prowess, romantic conquests etc.) or about the Church (attacking its moral teachings) have been made at funeral masses.” They continue, “The reflection should be prepared beforehand, and ideally be reviewed with the priest or presiding minister beforehand, to avoid undue length or embarrassing situations.” Catholic hierarchies in other countries often ban lay people from giving eulogies at funeral masses, but the church in Australia allows for a few short words of remembrance from a family member or friend.

Priests Who Are Fathers “Deserve a Second Chance”
According to a story in Colombia’s El Tiempo, celibacy is the rule for priests—but only up to a point. The Code of Canon Law is clear about priests who have ongoing relationships with or choose to live with women: They must resign. After Fr. Mario Solano admitted to being the father of a 7-year-old son in court, Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro, the president of the bishops’ conference, affirmed that all priests are called to celibacy. However, he noted, when they fall, as long as they admit to being at fault and change their lives, they deserve another chance. Father Arango said: “If God forgives us, so should the church.”

Before his paternity came to light, Solano had married the mother and legal father of the child in church, spiritually supported them during a period of marital counseling and then comforted both after their divorce.

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“This is a dialogue. But it is a dialogue in the Roman sense—I talk, you listen.”
—Cardinal Edward Egan of New York explaining his management style. [1]

“The Antichrist presents himself as pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist.”
—Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, retired bishop of Bologna, Italy. [2]

“Why say ‘no’ to forms of legally recognized cohabitation that creates alternatives to the family? Why say ‘no’ to incest? Why say ‘no’ to the pedophile party in Holland?”
—Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, and leader of the hierarchy’s campaign against the Italian government’s bill to recognize same-sex unions. [3]

“Euthanasia? Useless. Abortion? Antidemocratic. Gays? Abnormal. Condoms? Porous.”

—Bishop André-Mutien Léonard of Namur, Belgium. [4]

“Counterproductive—academic discussions about excommunication certainly do not help to save even one child’s life.”
—Erich Leitenberger, spokesman for Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, decrying the excommunication by an auxiliary bishop of a realtor who rented space to an abortion clinic. [5]

“The pro-abortion priest is dead.… I can’t think of a single priest who did more damage to the church in this country than Fr. Drinan.”

—Deal Hudson, former editor of the conservative magazine Crisis, showing the depth of his compassion and willingness to forgive after the death of Fr. Robert Drinan. [6]

“What are you doing about it? How is your voice heard?”
—Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., explaining what he would like to say to conservatives who demand he take action against prochoice politicians. [7]

“When a person attends Holy Communion, priests in general rightly rely on the good faith of the communicant…. It is true that canon law contains a provision stating that ‘others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion,’ but the interpretation of this clause requires very careful consideration of all the circumstances of the case and it would be highly unlikely to be applied in the kind of situation envisaged.”
—A spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales explaining why legislators who vote for abortion rights are not automatically excommunicated. [8]

“Clearly if we can believe in the virgin birth and that the body and blood of Christ are in the eucharist, then we can certainly believe that a woman can be a priest.”
—Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, author of Failing America’s Faithful. [9]

“As a Christian, a Catholic Priest, I stand in opposition to any and all hateful speech used by anyone, especially when they do so in the name of Jesus. I do not believe that one can claim to be a disciple of Jesus and at the same time deride, mock, insult, or threaten violence against another person. Mr. Donohue clearly makes hateful remarks as well as violent comments towards Mr. Cavallaro and as such he insults God, his fellow Catholics and humanity for that point. Proclaiming the Salvation of Jesus means that we are to refrain from such vile speech. One cannot preach the love of Jesus while cursing one’s neighbor. The two cannot co-exist. To continually use hateful, crude, violent language is indicative of what dwells within one’s heart. Mr. Donohue speaks only for himself and not the
Catholic Church.”

—Fr. Jeff Gatlain, a priest in Kentucky, giving his opinion of Catholic League president Bill Donohue after Donohue’s campaign against Cosimo Cavallaro’s “Chocolate Jesus” sculpture. [10]


  1. David Gibson, “The Cardinal’s Sins,” New York, February 5, 2007.
  2. “Retreatants hear of guises of the Antichrist,” Zenit, February 28, 2007.
  3. “Comments on same-sex rights bill outrages Italy’s gay community,” Reuters, April 2, 2007.
  4. “The Church and Belgians,” TéléMoustique, April 4, 2007.
  5. “Excommunication over abortion: Austrian cardinal disagrees,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, February 3, 2007.
  6. Deal Hudson, “The pro-abortion priest is dead,” Deal W. Hudson (blog), January 31, 2007.
  7. Ann Rodgers, “Wuerl’s stand on lawmakers who back abortion angers some conservative Catholics,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 22, 2007.
  8. James Hastings, “Pro-lifers call for church to get tough,” Catholic Times, March 25, 2007.
  9. Lisa Miller, “BeliefWatch: Refocusing faith on service,” Newsweek, March 12, 2007.
  10. John Amato, “A Catholic priest stands tall against Bill Donohue,” Crooks and Liars, April 5th, 2007.


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