In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Winter 2008-2009

In this Issue:

The Church and Abortion

The Church and State

The Church and Bioethics

The Church and Contraception

The Church and Homosexuality

The Church and Abortion

Bishop Would Die for an End to Abortion

At the fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Bishop Robert Hermann, current administrator of the St. Louis Diocese, stated, “I think any bishop here would consider it a privilege to die tomorrow to bring about an end to abortion.”

Following his statement, one or two bishops clapped before the assembly moved on to different issues. Hermann claims that many of his fellow bishops, including Archbishop Charles Chaput, Bishop Robert Finn and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, expressed gratitude for the bishop’s atypical assertion. However, he admits that he did receive several negative responses that did not bother him because he sees “that we’re products of a secular society.”

While Hermann stated his willingness to put his life down for the antiabortion cause, he did not draw any attention to the fact that many women around the world die each year as a result of the bans on abortion that exist. In countries where abortion is illegal, and even in countries where it is legal but often unavailable, the procedure is frequently performed illicitly, often under unsafe conditions. According to the World Health Organization, 67,000 women die annually from unsafe abortions
Uruguayan Congress Supports Abortion Rights, President Issues Veto

Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez vetoed a decision by the Uruguayan Congress to give women the right to abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions had been legal in cases of rape or if a pregnant woman’s life was endangered by a pregnancy. The legislation had extended these cases to include risks to the health of women or other circumstances, including poverty.

Many Uruguayans hailed the legislation as a victory; however, the response of the local bishops was less than positive. During a November plenary session, the bishops declared that they would deny Communion to anybody who supports the right to abortion, including policymakers and Catholics who vote in favor of them.

Despite the bishops’ hardline stance on Catholics, Uruguayans remain unmoved. A poll by Interconsult showed that nearly 6 in 10 citizens—in a predominately Catholic country— supported the legislation.

President Vasquez, who issued the veto for “philosophical and biological reasons,” resigned from the country’s Socialist Party— which sponsored the legislation— after issuing the veto.
Brazilian Women Denounced for Accessing Clandestine Abortions

Over 1,000 women and their partners were publicly denounced for having abortions at a 20-year-old family planning clinic in the state of Mato Grosso Do Sul, Brazil. Additionally, authorities released the names of over 10,000 women who sought out the clinic’s services since 2000.

Following a television interview about the clinic— which closed in 2007— Brazilian authorities launched a police investigation to uncover those suspected of having abortions. Resulting from this investigation, more than 150 women were charged and 30 women were issued community service sentences.

Judge Aluizio Pereria dos Santos has been accused by human rights organizations of conducting a humiliating investigation that included interviewing the women’s partners, demanding intimate medical examinations, and publicizing confidential medical records.

The right to abortion is prohibited in Brazil, except in the cases of rape or if a woman’s life is at risk, and penalties range from one to three years in jail. Many policymakers in Brazil support a change of policy and the legalization of abortion. However, as Brazil has the world’s largest Catholic population, the Catholic hierarchy continues to be an obstacle to reproductive rights.


Bolivian Advocates Hail Abortion Ruling

Last fall, history was made in Bolivia as the Bolivian Supreme Court ordered all lower court judges to implement Article 266 of the Penal Code which permits the right to abortion in cases of rape, incest and when a woman’s life or health is in danger.

Bolivia’s current Penal Code includes these permissions; however, the law states that judicial authorization must be obtained before a woman consents to an abortion. As a result of long delays in the judicial authorization process, women have been unable to access safe and legal abortions. To date, only six women in Bolivia have had legal abortions.

Reproductive rights activists in Bolivia are hopeful that this ruling by the Supreme Court will help expedite the authorization process, making safe and legal abortion more accessible.

If the Supreme Court ruling prevails, Bolivia will join the ranks of countries that have liberalized their abortion laws or increased access to abortion in the past 10 years. These countries were outlined in a recent publication from the Guttmacher Institute entitled “Developments in Laws on Induced Abortion: 1998–2007.”


Guttmacher Report Finds US Abortion Rate at 30-Year Low

According to “trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortion, 1974 to 2004,” a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, the rate of abortion in the United States is at its lowest level since 1974. The report notes that the rate of abortion peaked in 1980 with 39 abortions per 1,000 women and is now down to 20 per 1,000.

However, the report also uncovers hidden disparities in the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion across racial and ethnic subgroups. A Guttmacher Institute senior research associate stated, “Behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. And because women of color are much more likely to experience unintended pregnancies than any other group, they are also more likely to seek and obtain abortions.”

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The Church and State

Bishops Fail to Sway Voters in 2008 Election


In the lead up to the 2008 US election, nearly 70 bishops issued statements which sought to sway the minds of Catholic voters. A number of these statements overtly denounced prochoice candidates in what may be a violation of the church’s tax-exempt status.
Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City was arguably the most inflammatory. When asked in a radio interview what he would say to Catholics who supported Barack Obama, Finn replied, “I would say, give consideration to your eternal salvation.”
In the political hotbed of Scranton, Penn., Bishop Joseph Martino stated in a pastoral letter, “The taking of innocent human life is so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that abortion must take precedence over every other issue. I repeat. It is the single most important issue confronting not only Catholics, but the entire electorate.”

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service accusing Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, NJ, of illegal partisanship when he declared, “Along with 108 members of Congress, the present Democratic candidate for President continues his strong support for the Freedom of Choice Act… What a choice for a new President!”

Despite the attempts of bishops to influence Catholic voters, a majority (54%) cast their ballot for the prochoice candidate, President Barack Obama.

The president of Catholics for Choice, Jon O’Brien, remarked on the US election results, “This shows that the majority of Catholics voted their conscience when deciding who should be the next president, and ignored the single-issue dictates of a few bishops who declared that it was unacceptable to vote for him because of his prochoice position.”

Bishops Renounce Priests for Denying Communion to Obama Supporters

Just after the election, Father Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, SC, told his parishioners, “Persons [who voted for a prochoice candidate] should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”

Similarly, parishioners at St. Joseph’s in Modesto, Calif., were told by their pastor, Father Joseph Illo, “If you are one of the 54 percent of Catholics who voted for a proabortion candidate…I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion.”

The bishops in whose dioceses these statements were made disagreed with the priests. Bishop Stephen Blaire of Illo’s diocese stated that Catholics should not feel the need to disclose how they voted to a priest. The administrator of Newman’s diocese, Monsignor Martin Laughlin likewise repudiated Newman’s assertion, “The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman…have diverted the focus from the Church’s clear position against abortion.”

In the 2004 election, several bishops and priests called for the denial of Communion to prochoice politicians. However, in the most recent election, the practice was less common and, as seen from Laughlin’s words, seemed to be less acceptable to the hierarchy.

Most canon law experts agree that denying Communion to those who disagree with the church’s moral or policy positions on abortion or vote for a candidate who is prochoice is difficult to apply in any situation.


Burke Interferes with US Politics Even from Afar

Last June, Archbishop Raymond Burke was promoted from his position at the Diocese of St. Louis to be the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome. While still in the United States, Burke was a controversial and conservative figure. In 2004, Burke led the charge to deny the Eucharist to John Kerry and other prochoice Catholic politicians.

Even an ocean apart, Burke made vocal his feelings about the 2008 election. In an interview in Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops conference, Burke stated, “At this point, the Democratic Party risks transforming itself definitely into a “Party of Death” due to its choice on bioethical issues.”

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The Church and Bioethics

Vatican Decries Assisted Reproductive Technology

On December 10, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released its much anticipateddocument Dignitas Personae, a Vatican instruction on bioethics. In the controversial document, the Vatican denounced innovative practices which work to combat infertility and disease such as in-vitro fertilization, embryo freezing and stem-cell research.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said in response to the document, “The Vatican’s new document shows that the Catholic hierarchy is once again on the wrong side of science and the needs of contemporary society…We need the church to step forward now, and show the world that Catholicism and scientific progress can work in harmony to help develop the cures we need to cure disease and infertility.”


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The Church and Contraception

Study Finds Majority of Catholic Students Support Abortion, Contraceptives

A recent study conducted by QEV Analytics discovered that a majority of students at Catholic colleges and universities disagree with the position of the church hierarchy on sexual and reproductive health. Of those surveyed, 60 percent disagreed that premarital sex is a sin; 60 percent agreed that abortion should be legal; 78 percent disagreed that condom use was a sin; and 57 percent agreed that same-sex marriage should be legal. These statistics demonstrate that, much like the Catholic population at large, the opinions of students at Catholic colleges do not differ much from their peers who attend non- Catholic schools.

While some conservative pundits argue that the sample size of 506 students for this particular survey was simply too small, other research supports the survey’s findings. Assistant professor of religion at Boston University, Donna Freitas, surveyed 2,500 students for her book Sex & the Soul. Freitas stated, “My most striking finding was that Catholic colleges were virtually indistinguishable from the private secular and public schools in terms of prominence of sexual behavior, hook-up culture and attitudes about sex. Chastity and purity and saving sex for marriage was virtually nonexistent at Catholic colleges.”


Austrian Bishop Blames Other Bishops for Promoting Conscience

Cardinal Schönborn, Austria’s oldest member of the clergy, has condemned his predecessors for not speaking out against birth control. After the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae which denounced contraceptive use, many bishops conferences reminded Catholics that they could rely on their individual conscience when it came to contraceptive use.

Schönborn saw these actions as cowardly and suggested that those bishops were “frightened of the press and of being misunderstood by the faithful.” He went on to imply that the bishops’ statements contributed to “weakening the People of God’s sense for life” and supported “the wave of abortions” that followed the encyclical.

As outlined in a recent publication from Catholics for Choice, Truth & Consequence, the legacy of Humanae Vitae has certainly weakened the quality of life, especially in the developing world where the Catholic hierarchy holds sway over family planning policies. The teachings of Humanae Vitae have greatly contributed to the unmet need for contraceptive and modern family planning methods, which leads to “increased abortion, death and disability for women denied the ability to limit pregnancies, as well as the spread of AIDS.”


Caritas Hospitals Refuse Emergency Contraception for Rape Victims

According to state law passed in 2005, hospitals in Massachusetts are required to provide emergency contraception to victims of rape. In a recent survey conducted by NARAL Pro- Choice Massachusetts, a researcher posed as a rape crisis counselor and called 70 hospital emergency rooms to see if they were complying with the law. Two were out of step.
Staffers at Caritas St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Mass., and Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Mass., said they would not provide emergency contraception, defying state law. Both hospitals are owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
Not only are these actions illegal, but they also negate Catholic teaching on conscience. As CFC publication, In Good Conscience: Respecting the Beliefs of Health-Care Providers and the Needs of Patients suggests, “[I]nstitutions should not seek to impose an ideology and should instead defer to the individual conscience of the patient by respecting her or his right to comprehensive health care.”
Radio Ads Take on Myths about Condoms in Catholic and Latino Communities


On December 1, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Catholics for Choice joined forces to launch the first-ever Condoms4Life radio ads. The two Spanish-language ads addressed myths about condom use in Catholic and Latino communities and highlighted the importance of condom use and that Good Catholics Use Condoms.

Univision radio stations originally declined the ads. However, Univision agreed to play the ads after the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Catholics for Choice urged activists to e-mail Gary Stone, coo of Univision, about the ads.

Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said, “Latinos represent almost 20 percent of new HIV infections occurring in the United States and young Latinas are twice as likely to face an unintended pregnancy as the general population. The Latino community faces many health disparities and it is time that we protect ourselves and our partners.”


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The Church and Homosexuality

Vatican Declares Opposition to Gay Rights

On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Holy See announced its opposition to a declaration highlighting the rights of gay men and women. The declaration, which was proposed by France on behalf of the European Union, denounces discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Currently, 80 countries have laws which criminalize homosexuality. However, the Holy See’s focus was not on those gay men and women who face the death penalty or long-term prison sentences as a result of their sexual orientation. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio to the United States, stated, “If adopted, they would create new and implacable discriminations. For example, states which do not recognize same-sex unions as ‘matrimony’ will be pilloried and made an object of pressure.”

In response to the Vatican declaration, Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, stated, “The church hierarchy claims that implementing this declaration would in turn discriminate against those who have religious beliefs against homosexuality. However, the net effect is that the Holy See is denying rights to the marginalized— a core element of church doctrine.”

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“There’s a difference between someone who is openly racist, and someone who says their personal conviction is one thing while voting is another…We have never really studied [if a prochoice vote constitutes “formal cooperation” in abortion] carefully.”

—Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, at a press conference in Baltimore just after the November elections. [1]

“The initiative of a list on abortion, beyond its noble intent, mistakenly brings a moral theme to an electoral competition. It’s as if it were a list of ‘pure people,’ of ‘champions,’ of ‘specialists.’ It carries a grave risk of extremism, of ghettoization of one part of the Catholic world on such a sensitive issue.”
—Spokesperson of Italian bishops’ conference responding to “pro-life” candidates who wanted the church’s endorsement. [2]
“When I get criticized on the pro-life thing, well, that’s a lot more important than someone calling up and saying, “’Look, don’t give the jersey away.’ I’m a pro-life Catholic. I think abortion is wrong. But I’m not a one-issue voter, and Sen. Obama has pledged to help reduce the number of abortions. I’ve talked to people in the church about it, and my conscience is clear on this.”
—Lifelong Republican Dan Rooney explains why he has a clear conscience in supporting Obama. [3]
“The church would regain credibility and competence. Knowing how to admit one’s errors and the limitations of one’s previous viewpoints is a sign of greatness of soul and confidence.”
—Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini explaining why Humanae Vitae and the Vatican ban on contraception needs “a new vision.” [4]

Q. “Do you think the church will eventually move toward a married or female priesthood?”
A. “Absolutely. Because otherwise the church will die. If the Catholic Church can still believe and continue to teach that a call is placed in the heart of an individual by the Holy Spirit alone then the church must look at why men are genuinely not feeling called by the Holy Spirit in the numbers that women are. You cannot thwart the Holy Spirit. She alone runs the church. I think that’s a widely held view by American Catholics.”

—Sister Dorinda Young, Georgetown Law’s Catholic chaplain, in an interview with Georgetown Law Weekly. [5]
President George W. Bush: “How big is it?”
Vatican aide: “Not quite as big as Texas.”


—President Bush remarking on the size of the Vatican grounds during his visit last June. [6]



  1. John L. Allen, Jr., “Bishops in agreement – and not in agreement – on abortion,” National Catholic Reporter (Kansas City), November 12, 2008.
  2. Nicholas P. Cafardi, “The Republican captivity,” National Catholic Reporter (Kansas City), November 25, 2008.
  3. Gene Collier, “Why Dan Rooney fell for Obama,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh), November 9, 2008.
  4. Warsaw Voice, “Heard in Passing,” September 3, 2008.
  5. Sister Dorinda Young, Georgetown Law Catholic chaplain, in an interview with Georgetown Law Weekly.
  6. “Pope honours Bush with welcome at Vatican gardens,” The Scotsman (Edinburgh), June 14, 2008.
Catholics for Choice