In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Autumn 2007

In this Issue:

The Church and Abortion
The Church and Bioethics 
The Church and Condoms
The Church and Homosexuality 
The Sex-Abuse Scandal 
End Notes

The Church and Abortion

Three opinion polls in heavily Catholic countries show consistent support for abortion rights. A poll of Catholics in the United States shows that a majority supports the availability of abortion in all or most cases.

A TNS MRBI poll carried out on behalf of the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign asked people in what circumstances they would support abortion in Ireland, where it is currently illegal.

When a pregnant woman’s life is at risk because of the threat of suicide?
Agree 69% Disagree 25%

When the fetus cannot survive outside the womb?

Agree 75% Disagree 20%

When the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman’s life?
Agree 82% Disagree 14%

When the pregnancy is the result of rape?

Agree 69% Disagree 24%

When the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse by a family member?
Agree 73% Disagree 22%

When there is evidence that the child will be profoundly deformed (physically and/or mentally)?
Agree 56% Disagree 37%

When a woman decides it’s in her best interests to do so?

Agree 43% Disagree 51%

The poll was done following a high-profile abortion case. An overzealous bureaucrat filed a court motion to prevent a woman with an anencephalic fetus from traveling to the U.K. for an abortion. The courts ruled in her favor, but the case once again revealed the lack of clarity in Ireland’s laws. The 17-year-old woman, known as Miss D., was 18 weeks pregnant when the defect was discovered.

In a statement, CFFC president Jon O’Brien said, “The indignity that Miss D. was forced to go through
could have been avoided if Irish politicians had the courage to legislate as they are supposed to do. So long as Irish politicians—of all parties—continue to bury their heads in the sand and fail to take action, Irish women will continue to suffer these tragedies. The issue of abortion is not going away and needs to be addressed in a mature way that takes into account the needs and differing beliefs of all people living in Ireland. It would be novel to see some real political leadership on addressing these needs.”

A Factum poll showed that 61 percent are now in favor of decriminalizing abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. At present, abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s life and severe fetal defects.

Czech Republic

A majority of czechs (72 percent) believe that a woman alone has the right to decide about an abortion, according to a cvvm poll. Five percent said that an abortion should be allowed only if the life of the woman was threatened. Only one percent agreed with the view that abortions should be
banned completely.

United States
In a Washington Post/ABC poll asking whether people thought abortion should be legal or not, Catholic views were largely in line with the population as a whole.

(General Population)

All cases     Most cases     NET
10 (16)        40 (39)      51 (56)

Most Cases    All cases      NET
34 (31)        13 (12)      47 (42)

Amnesty International Votes to Support Abortion Rights
The International Executive Committee of Amnesty International has confirmed a new policy of supporting limited abortion rights. Chapters and the leadership considered the issue over a two-year period and adopted a policy that supports access to abortions in cases of rape, incest, violence and jeopardy to a woman’s life or health. Amnesty also opposes criminal punishments for womenwho have abortions and those who perform them.

Antichoice and conservative critics, including a number of Catholic bishops, opposed the decision, but there appears to have been little if any fallout in the form of resignations or a drop in funding.

Executive deputy secretary general Kate Gilmore told the Associated Press that the vast majority of chapters supported the change in policy, but that members in Ireland, where abortion is illegal, were unlikely to campaign on the matter. However, Gilmore noted that in other countries where abortion was illegal, such as Poland and certain Latin American countries, activists were very enthusiastic about the new policy.

In a statement to the media, CFFC president Jon O’Brien said, “Amnesty International has a long and
distinguished history fighting against human rights abuses the world over. By taking this important step to support abortion rights, Amnesty will be able to support other groups in situations where access to abortion is vital.”

With respect to the call from Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, for Catholics to withdraw their financial support from Amnesty, O’Brien said,
“Catholics may continue to support and fund Amnesty, safe in the knowledge that its work on this issue will save women’s lives when all other avenues to justice have failed. Amnesty International has taken an important step in showing that reproductive rights, including the right to end a pregnancy through abortion, are a vital part of the human rights canon.”

Catholics in Germany Insist on Continuing Counseling
Catholics in germany are resisting a call from the Vatican to stop operating counseling centers for pregnant women. According to German law, abortion is legal within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy provided the woman can produce a certificate saying that she received counseling. Thishas led to a rift between the Vatican, which called for the centers to be closed because they could potentially facilitate abortion, and Catholics who feel it is an important service to provide regardless of what decision women make after counseling.

The Vatican-ordered closing of church-run centers in the late 1990s, over the opposition of many
German bishops and lay organizations, prompted lay Catholics to set up their own centers in a program called Donum Vitae. From 2005 to 2006, there was a nine percent increase in the number of women who sought counseling at such sites. A recent letter from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, urging German bishops to stop Catholics from supporting Donum Vitae has only galvanized their effort. Wolfgang Thierse, a founding member of Donum Vitae and deputy speaker of the German parliament, said there is no reason Catholic women should not follow their conscience on such matters.

Brazilian President Makes Prochoice Comments on Eve of Pope’s Visit
On the eve of the first visit to Brazil by Pope Benedict XVI, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva went on several Catholic-sponsored radio stations to argue that “the state needs to treat [abortion] as question of public health.”

Abortion is illegal in Brazil, and some estimates suggest that there are more than 1 million illegal abortions each year. Recent estimates also indicate that 1.2 million women have been hospitalized in the past five years due to complications following illegal abortions. “If we had a good process of
family planning and sex education, possibly we would not have the number of unwanted pregnancies that we have today,” Lula said.

In related news, controversial comments that the pope made en route to Brazil were initially tempered by a spokesman and then miraculously expunged from the official record the next day.

When asked about a recent vote in favor of abortion by the Mexico City legislature, the pope seemed
to rubber-stamp the excommunication of Roman Catholic politicians who had voted in favor of the move.

His spokesman initially clarified these comments, suggesting instead that the politicians had in effect
excommunicated themselves and could not receive Communion. However, the final transcript was altered to change the meaning completely, making it appear as if the comments were more general and did not refer to any specific incidents.

During the flight, Benedict was asked if he supported the excommunication of a number of Catholic politicians in Mexico who had voted in favor of changing the city laws to permit abortion. “Yes, this excommunication is not something arbitrary,” he replied. The final transcript removed “Yes, this,” so that the sentence began, “Excommunication is….”

The pope’s initial comments would suggest a change in church law, which does not appear to support
the position that Catholic politicians who vote in favor of prochoice legislation face a canonical punishment.

A poll by Rasmussen in the United States, where much of the controversy over denying communion to prochoice Catholic politicians has centered, found that only 23 percent of Catholics felt that it was an appropriate punishment. Fifty-three percent opposed
the move.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the primate of England and Wales, warned bishops to stay away from politics. In an interview with Vatican Radio, he said, “I think it would not be right for bishops to say everyone that voted this way should be excommunicated, but I do think that Catholic politicians
have a duty to examine their consciences, to be informed about their faith and to act on that conscience. How they do so is a decision for them to make but I think that bishops have got to be careful not to intrude too much into the political sphere.”

A few days after the pope’s visit, Lula announced a new plan to subsidize contraceptive pills sold at private drugstores. Brazil already distributes over 250 million free condoms annually and offers free oral contraception at government-run pharmacies. The new program will drastically reduce the price in the private pharmacies that many poor women still depend on. Anyone with a government-issued identification card will be able to buy a month’s supply for 0.40 Brazilian reals ($0.20), compared with current prices of 5 reals ($2.56) to 50 reals ($25.60). Lula promoted the program as a means for giving poor women “the same right that wealthy women have to plan the number of children they want.” It was introduced as part of a broader government effort to reduce the number of maternal and newborn child deaths.

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The Church and Bioethics

Bishops Support Human Hybrids
The bishops’ conference of England and Wales has argued that human embryos containing animal cells, known as chimeras, should be considered human. As part of the bishops’ response to the proposed Human Tissue and Embryo Bill, they also said politicians should reconsider a proposed ban on the implantation of chimeras into women. The bill includes a proposal to allow the creation of chimeras, as long as they are destroyed within two weeks.

“In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them,” the bishops said. “At [the] very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings and should be treated accordingly.”

These statements seem to veer away from the bishops’ previous trenchant opposition to all such experimentation and to the use of such methods to help infertile couples have children.

Euthanasia an Issue in Rome 
A fissure in catholicleadership opinion regarding end-of-life issues was brought to the forefront by the Diocese of Rome’s refusal to grant a request for a religious funeral for Piergiorgio Welby. Welby’s wife’s request was denied because Welby had asked to be removed from the ventilator that had kept him alive for nine years, a request that the Vatican called “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.” The pope made several statements backing the decision, but public sentiment and even some high-ranking church officials stood in opposition.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who has written articles testing the Vatican’s position on euthanasia, came down definitively against the papal line and the recent decision. In an interview reported on the front page of Il Sole 24 Ore, Martini distinguished between causing death and interrupting “the use of disproportionate medical procedures without any reasonable hope for a positive outcome,” arguing that the latter is justifiable. He also maintained that “the will of the sick person may not be overlooked.” While Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar of the Diocese of Rome, and Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, tried to counter Cardinal Martini, Italians were on Martini’s side, with 68 percent supporting Welby’s right to a church funeral.

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The Church and Condoms

African Bishops Call for Sacrifices, Not Condoms
During the first national Catholic conference on HIV/AIDS in Nairobi, Bishop Philip Sulumeti of Kakamega Diocese, chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference’s Commission for Health, advocated the most severe interpretation of Catholic doctrine on the use of condoms. Despite the fact that several Catholic bishops advocate the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, Sulumeti opposed any use of condoms. “Even in the case of discordant couples [where one spouse is
infected], those offering care should look at all the issues affecting the couple other than the sexual aspect. One of them will have to sacrifice for the sake of the other,” he said.

Later, Bishop Alfred Rotich of the Military Ordinariate said couples where one partner is infected “may find themselves called to live the challenge of love in relation to sacrifice for the sake of the uninfected spouse and the children.”

“While constantly renewing the universal teaching of the Church in this time of aids, we encourage the clergy, the religious and other pastoral agents to assist discordant and infected couples to form
their consciences with regard to how they will live out their marital relationship, and make decisions
that are life enhancing and faithful,” he said.

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The Church and Homosexuality

In Vicious Diatribe, Latvian Cardinal Distorts Catholic Teachings on Homosexuality
Speaking at a conference in Riga, Latvia, where the Catholic hierarchy has been outspoken in its opposition to gay rights, CFFC ’s European representative Elfriede Harth drew attention to the fact that despite the rhetoric and actions of the Catholic hierarchy, the gay community has the support of many rank-and-file Catholics. She said Catholics in the pews stand in solidarity with gays, especially in the face of aggressive anti-gay sentiment.

In her speech to the Riga Friendship Days and Pride Celebration, Harth reminded the audience of gay and human rights activists that the hierarchy’s pronouncements on matters of justice related to sexual and reproductive health do not represent the views of most Catholics. She urged Latvian politicians to listen to the voice of the majority who are supportive of equal rights, not the increasingly shrill and extreme views of the Catholic hierarchy. Harth said, “Policymakers should remember that Catholics want legislation that protects and enables family life. They want legislation
that permits meaningful, stable loving relationships, not bigotry and hatred.”

In the days leading up to the gay-pride march and conference, Cardinal Janislli Pujats of Latvia spoke out against gay rights in one of the most strongly worded statements by a church leader against homosexuality in recent memory.

In an open letter on the subject, Pujats referred to gays as “sexually crazy people” who practice “amoral behavior” and to laws protecting gay rights as “a true military attack against the nation’s morality, religion and family values.” He condemned homosexuality as “a total corruption of the sexual arena and is an unnatural form of prostitution,” and accused the gay pride organizers of “demanding not just tolerance, but also that sexual corruption be protected by law and popularized by special programs in schools and elsewhere.” He called homosexuality a “sickness,” and said that “homosexuals, taking advantage of our sexualized society, are attacking us with their perversions.”


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The Sex-Abuse Scandal

  • The Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to settle lawsuits brought by more than 550 victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. The $660 million settlement will be the largest payout made by any single diocese since the clergy sexual abuse scandal began.

    According to Anne Barrett Doyle, the codirector of, Cardinal Roger Mahony can consider himself lucky, as some predictions had the payout at over $1.5 billion if the case had been heard in court. In any case, the diocese will have to pay out only $250 million; insurance companies and individual orders will cover the rest. Mahony avoided questioning in open court where he would have had either to commit perjury to cover up his involvement inshuttling predatory priests around the diocese or to admit such complicity.

  • The Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that the vast majority of lay Catholics are unaware of the efforts undertaken by U.S. bishops to prevent and respond to allegations of sex abuse. In a survey of over 1,000 self-identified Catholics, participants were presented 13 specific policies that were put in place following the
    sexual-abuse scandal. Respondents were largely supportive of the measures taken, but even the most well-known policies, such as zero-tolerance and reporting abuse to the authorities, were known by less than half. After learning of all the policies, 71 percent rated the bishops’ handling of the issue as only “fair,” and two-thirds said the policies “should go further.”
  • In a move to take the strategy for responding to clergy sexual abuse beyond apologies, the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland has established the National Board for Child Protection and appointed Ian Elliott, the director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Belfast, as its first chief executive officer. Elliott has specialized in social work for over 30 years and has led a major reform program for Northern Ireland’s child protection service. The board, chaired by former Supreme Court judge Anthony Hederman, has been charged with implementing child protection measures and is overseen by the bishops’ conference, the Conference of Religious in Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union.
  • Two women who sued the Diocese of Rockford, Ill., after being molested by Father Mark Campobello in the late 1990s were awarded $2.2 million. Despite being reported by one of the women to diocese authorities, Fr. Campobello continued to serve at a church in Belvidere until the time of his arrest several months later. In 2003, the priest pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, and the diocese, after being held in contempt for refusing to release personal data on Campobello, settled out of court.
  • Two victims, a man and woman in their late 20s, were awarded $11.45 million after former youth minister Matthew Maiello pleaded guilty to raping and sodomizing them while they were in their teens. The jury ruled that the defendants— the Diocese of Rockville Centre and St.
    Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church and its pastor—acted “with reckless disregard for the safety of others in the negligent hiring and retention” of Maiello.
  • In April, a U.S. bankruptcy judge ended the first Catholic diocesan bankruptcy trial. Immediately after the negotiation of payment for all remaining sex-abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Portland, the approval of a $75 million settlement and a financial reorganization plan was announced. The same day, bankruptcy proceedings in the Diocese of Spokane came to an end when a $48 million settlement of sexual abuse claims by over 160 victims was agreed upon.

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End Notes

Vatican Takes Time Out to Promote Good Driving
While there has not been a serious road accident within the Vatican for many years, Pope Benedict
XVI took time out from his busy schedule to approve a 36-page document called “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,” containing a Ten Commandments-style guide for Catholics on the morality of good driving.

The document forbids driving under the influence, exceeding speed limits, impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy and road rage, while encouraging Catholics to show respect for pedestrians and keep their cars in good shape. Paying due attention to the road was naturally encouraged, but praying was given a free pass and is permitted while driving.

Polish Priest Outrages Jews, Women

A polish priest who directs a virulently antichoice media organization that includes the notorious Radio Maryja has been caught making anti-Semitic comments and calling the Polish prime minister’s wife a witch.

According to Wprost, a Polish weekly newspaper, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk accused prime minister
Jaroslaw Kaczynski of bowing to pressure to compensate those whose property was nationalized by the postwar communist government, many of whom are Jewish.

“You know that it’s about Poland giving $65 billion” to the Jews, Rydzyk reportedly said. “They will come to you and say: Give me your coat. Take off your pants. Give me your shoes.”

Rydzyk also reportedly criticized the first lady for her support of abortion rights. He was quoted as saying: “You witch! … If you want to kill people, do it to yourself first.”

In the weeks after the comments were made public, Rydzyk was photographed meeting with the pope at his summer getaway in Castel Gandolfo, just south of Rome.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, noted that Rydzyk “is not merely an individual. As a priest he speaks for the Catholic church and it is the church that must discipline him.”

Vatican Seeks New Revenue Streams—on the Backs of the Poor

The Vatican has decided to convert properties ically reserved for low-rent accommodations for Rome’s poor and elderly population into hotels and commercial properties. Many residents who had
been told that they would have fixed rent for the rest of their lives have now received eviction notices, while others are trying to manage rent that has nearly tripled. One palazzo was converted into a five-star hotel that charges $550 a night after the residents, all over the age of 70, were turned out. The Vatican owns a quarter of the buildings in central Rome and has been able to keep prices low because much of the property was donated and the buildings are not subject to any council tax and receive a 50 percent discount on corporation tax.

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“The role of the church in politics is not to get involved.… The responsibility we face as a church is to raise issues of what we believe in…. [I]t is totally inappropriate and out of line for me to suggest what candidates people would vote for.”
—Bishop-elect of Pittsburgh David Zubik.” [1]

I can just hear Pilate saying, ‘You know, I’m personally opposed to crucifixion but I don’t want to impose my beliefs on others.’”
—Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin on Rudy Giuliani’s prochoice views. [2]

“[The] wound is still more profound [in Protestant denominations]. Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress…it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of ‘Church’ could possibly be attributed to them.”

—The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, doing its bit for ecumenism by declaring all non-Catholic faiths to be deficient. [3]

“There is a whiff of Stalinism or perhaps only Henry VIII.”

—Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, after he was accused of interfering in the political process due to his opposition to stem-cell research legislation. [4]

“You witch! … If you want to kill people, do it to yourself

—Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, head of an ultraconservative media group in Poland, attacking the Polish first lady for her support of abortion rights. [5]

“You know that it’s about Poland giving $65 billion [to the Jews]…. They will come to you and say: Give me your coat. Take off your pants. Give me your shoes.”

—Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk (again!), criticizing the Polish government’s decision to compensate some Jews for property nationalized by the postwar communist government. [6]

“I noticed that he has a purse, but I didn’t realize he’s a boy. At first I thought that must be a bother for him. Later I learned that there could be some hidden homosexual undertones.… If inappropriate attitudes have been promoted, we need to react.”

—Ewa Sowinska, a children’s rights watchdog appointed by the Polish government, commenting on Tinky Winky (the purple Teletubby) and her plans to have the show reviewed by psychologists to see if it should be allowed on public television. [7]


  1. Rocco Palma, “With My Heart Racing and My Knees Knocking,” Whispers in the
    Loggia (Weblog), July 18, 2007.
  2. Ray Henry, “IRS asked to investigate Catholic bishop who blasted Giuliani,” Associated Press, June 13, 2007.
  3. Phil Stewart, “Vatican reaffirms Catholic primacy,” Washington Post, July 10, 2007.
  4. “Pell detects whiff of Stalinism in reaction to stem-cell research,” Tablet (U.K.), June 23, 2007.
  5. Ryan Lucas, “Polish priest rejects criticism after alleged anti-Semitic comments” Associated Press, July 12, 2007.
  6. Ryan Lucas, “Polish priest rejects criticism after alleged anti-Semitic comments” Associated Press, July 12, 2007.
  7. “Pursed Lips in Poland Over Image of Purple Teletubby,” Reuters, May 29, 2007; Emil Steiner,
    “Poland to Examine Teletubby Homosexuality,” Washington Post, May 29, 2007.
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