In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Spring 2008

In this Issue:

The Church and Abortion
The Church and Condoms 
Sex Abouse Scandal 
End Notes

The Church and Abortion

Bishops Initiate Antiabortion Campaign in Brazil 
The Catholic hierarchy in Brazil has initiated a year-long campaign against abortion and other reproductive health issues. In what one report called an “aggressive, almost provocative stance,” the hierarchy has used its annual Fraternity Campaign, through which it works on a particular area of church teaching, to promote a “Defense of Life.”

The General Secretary of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, Dimas Lara Barbosa, announced at the launch of the public education effort that he aimed to overturn any legislation that permits abortion in Brazil. The bishops are distributing literature to each parish and have sent out plastic fetus models as well.

Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir in Brazil has responded to the bishops’ campaign with its own public education campaign showing how faithful Brazilian Catholics support access to a range of reproductive health services, including abortion. At least 95 percent of Brazilian Catholics believe that supporting stem-cell research is a prolife action, with nearly all believing that the process would directly benefit medical advances toward fighting life-threatening diseases. In addition, CDD-Brazil has organized a series of public forums involving prestigious academics and advocates.

Majority in Ireland Disagree with Hierarchy’s Stance on Key Issues
A poll by the Irish Examiner has shown that the majority of Catholics follow their consciences on several priority issues for the church hierarchy.

When asked if they agree with church teachings on issues related to sex and marriage, the following results were reported:

44% agree
41% disagree
15% no opinion

31% agree
50% disagree
19% no opinion

30% agree
57% disagree
13% no opinion

23% agree
66% disagree
11% no opinion

Abortion was the only issue where a plurality went with the hierarchy, but a significant minority (15 percent) had no opinion.

According to the poll summary, “Social class and region of residence had no significant bearing on the views expressed but there was some variance among different age groups surveyed. The over 55s were most likely to agree with the [hierarchy] but even amongst this group, abortion is the only issue where more than half backed the [hierarchy’s] line. The youngest age group, the 18-34s, were the least likely to agree with the [hierarchy] on abortion, same-sex unions and divorce but they were slightly more likely to agree with the [hierarchy] on the contraception issue than the 35-54 age group.”

Archbishop Attacks University Coach
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke called for recriminations against the St. Louis University’s men’s basketball coach, Rick Majerus, after the coach, interviewed at a political rally, told reporters that he is “personally prochoice” and supports stem-cell research. Burke asked officials at the Catholic university to take “appropriate action” against Majerus.

Archbishop Burke commented, “I’m concerned that a leader at a Catholic university made these comments… it can lead Catholics astray. I just believe that it’s of the essence for people to understand as a Catholic you just cannot hold these beliefs.” Burke was one of the handful of bishops who during the 2004 election cycle said he would deny Communion to prochoice Catholic presidential candidate John Kerry.

In response to the controversy surrounding his statement, Majerus said, “These are my personal views. I’m
respectful of the archbishop’s position, but it’s not going to change my mind.We’re given free will and the right to vote for changes. I think religion should be inclusive. I would hope that all people would feel welcome inside a church, and that the church would serve to bring people together, even if they happen to disagree on certain things.”

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The Church and Condoms

Catholic Hierarchy Opposes Tax Cut on Condoms
Bishops in Ireland became embroiled in a debate over tax policy when they denounced a decision to reduce the
tax on condoms from 21 to 13.5 percent as “wrong, regrettable and contrary to the common good.”

As health campaigners welcomed the news, the Catholic communications officer, Martin Long, struck
a discordant note, saying that the bishops’ conference “utterly rejects the use and promotion of condoms,” claiming that the reduction in tax would promote promiscuity.

However, in making his statement, he gave some support to those who advocate for the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS when he said, “The church’s teaching is clear: within the sacrament of marriage, the use of condoms as contraceptives is wrong, though there may be mitigating circumstances.”

Caroline Spillane, director of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, said a recent study by her organization had shown that one in five people aged 16 to 24 said the cost of condoms discouraged their use of them. “While the reduction in cost to the consumer is not large, it will have an impact on the purse of the low-waged and younger person who report that cost is an issue for them,” she said. The Irish Family Planning Association noted that condoms in Ireland would still be among the most expensive in Europe.”

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Sex Abuse Scandal

Cases Drop, Payouts Rise
• The latest annual report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops shows that while the number of reported cases of clergy sex abuse dropped in 2007, payouts to victims doubled to their highest level yet. There were 691 new allegations in 2007, compared to just over 700 in 2006, the vast majority of which dated back years, if not decades. Financial settlements amounted more than $500 million.

In total, some 14,000 claims have been made against the church since 1950, with financial payouts now reaching $2.3 billion.

• Marcial Maciel, the founder of the ultra-conservative Legionaries of Christ, who had been accused of several cases of sexual abuse, died before he could stand trial. In the late 1950s, Maciel was suspended by the Vatican after several seminarians accused him of abusing them. He was reinstated two years later but was again suspended in 2006 and ordered to retire to a “reserved life of prayer and penance, renouncing every public ministry.”

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End Notes

Italian Bishops Seek Self-Censorship for Actors
The Italian Conference of Catholic bishops has called on actors to refuse to take part in “vulgar and destructive” erotic scenes in films. Father Nicolo Anselmi, head of the youth section of the bishops’ conference, said that an explicit sex scene in Caos Calmo, starring the Italian actor and director Nanni Moretti Moretti, was shown without any context involving “love or tenderness” and that similar scenes would have an undesirable effect on the “impressionable young.”

Film director Franco Zeffirelli accused the bishops of having lost all sense of proportion. It was a “fourth-rate” film, he said, that that did not merit the publicity.

Vatican Announces New Sins for the 21st Century
Msgr. Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Vatican Penitentiary (sometimes referred to as the office of sin and penance) created a storm when he seemed to suggest that the Vatican was considering updating the list of centuries-old Seven Deadly Sins.

Modern society required a new look at what constitutes a sin, Fr. Girotti suggested, naming issues such as pollution, drug running, genetic testing and social inequities as being the modern-day representations of all evil. “If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a value and resonance that is above all social, because of the great phenomenon of globalization,” Monsignor Girotti told the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

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“The formation of adolescent boys is best accomplished by male role models, as the formation of girls is best accomplished by women…Hence in the boys’ athletic competitions, it is important that the various role models (coaches and referees) be men.”

—Rev. Vicente Griego, headmaster of St. Mary’s Academy, explains why Michelle Campbell was told she could not officiate in a high school basketball game.[1]

“If you’re a Democrat can you legitimately vote for someone who is prochoice? I imagine so…But you have to tell them forcefully you want them to change. [Voting for a prochoice candidate] might be OK as long as you operate out of Catholic moral principles.”

—Archbishop Charles Chaput explains that there are many moral issues outside of abortion that should be considered when choosing for whom to vote. 

“The homosexual lobby has been extremely effective in aligning itself with minority groups…It is ever present at the service each year for the Holocaust memorial—as if to create for themselves the image of a group of people under persecution…I take it you’re beginning to see that there is a huge, well-orchestrated conspiracy taking place which the Catholic community completely missed…I saw actor Ian McKellen being honored for his work on behalf of homosexuals, when a century ago OscarWilde was put in jail… [Having a gay child] must be a nightmare moment for any parent. There are many days when I’m glad to not be a parent…I would try to handle it with a degree of compassion. But I would not tolerate that kind of behavior.”

—Bishop of Motherwell Joseph Devine, speaking to an audience in Glasgow about homosexual groups. [3]

“The condemnation of abortion is made on the basis of rational arguments, not revelation, and a person not convinced by the arguments has a right to dissent from the teaching on conscience and its relationship to authority.”

—Catholic priest Paul Surlis in a letter to the Washington Post qualifying another letter writer’s statement that “according to the Catholic catechism, abortion is a serious sin.” [4]

“I don’t feel I have a responsibility or an obligation to make people do what the church says. In fact, I think it would be wrong.”

—Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Tex. [5]

“You’ve got a very strong body of teaching that is consistent—it’s comprehensive—and whether we like it or not, Catholics, as everybody else, tend to be shoppers… they go through the Catholic world with a shopping cart and pick and choose what they believe, and the task of the bishop is to call people to more than that.”

—Rev. Lou Brusatti, the dean of humanities at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Tex., comments of the role of a bishop in the midst of cultural change. [6]

“On contraception and divorce, the rule of thumb in the parishes has become ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’…priests are beginning to adopt the same approach towards Catholics who are homosexual, of either gender, for similar reasons.”

—Tablet columnist Clifford Longley explains why fewer people attend confession. [7]

“It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen. As I read the histories of those victims, it is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way. Their mission was to give healing, to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future.”

—Pope Benedict xvi starts out his trip to the United States with the first of many apologies for the sexual abuse scandal. [8]

“What I find fascinating about the United States is that it began with a positive concept of secularism. [Its founders] wanted to have a lay, secular state that would open the possibilities for all the churches and for all forms of religious practice. So it was designed as a secular state, it was really against a state church, but secular specifically for love of religion and of its authenticity, which can only be lived freely…This seems to me to be a fundamental and positive model that should also be considered in Europe.”

—Despite many reports to the contrary, Pope Benedict praised secularism. [9]


  1. Margaret Stafford, “Kansas school offers explanation on removal of female ref,” Associated Press, February 20, 2008.
  2. Jean Torkelson, “Chaput weighs in on voters’ choice,” Rocky Mountain News, February 12, 2008.
  3. Tristan Stewart-Robertson, “So much for Christian compassion…the Bishop bashes gays once again,” Express (UK), March 13, 2008.
  4. Paul Surlis, “Catholicism and Abortion,” Washington Post, March 4, 2008.
  5. Eileen E. Flynn, “Bishop speaks for tenets amid cultural changes,” Austin American-Statesman, March 10, 2008.
  6. Eileen E. Flynn, “Bishop speaks for tenets amid cultural changes,” Austin American-Statesman, March 10, 2008.
  7. Clifford Longley, “People are telling themselves that contraception is a sin but a necessity,” The Tablet, March 15, 2008.
  8. John Holusha and Ian Fisher, “Pope Begins U.S. Visit; Says He Is Ashamed of Sex Scandal,” New York
    , April 16, 2008.
  9. CNS, “Papal inflight press conference,” April 15, 2008.
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