In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup
Spring 2004

In this issue:

The Sexual Abuse Crisis
The Church and State
Catholic Healthcare
The Church and Contraception
The Church and Abortion
The Church and HIV/AIDS

The Sexual Abuse Crisis

News Round-Up
• In December 2003, it was announced that the 542 victims of sexual abuse who agreed to participate in the settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston will receive payments of between $80,000 and $300,000. Ten people chose not to participate. The total cost of the settlement is about $85 million. The archdiocese said it may have to close some parishes to help pay for the settlement.

• In California, some 800 people took advantage of a law setting aside the statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes to file lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino and other dioceses in Northern California.

• On January 6, 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a report on the compliance of its dioceses in implementing the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The report was prepared by the Gavin Group Inc. of Boston, and found that 20 of 191 audited dioceses, representing almost four and a half million Catholics, have not implemented all the policies agreed to by the bishops. The audit did not include any religious orders, which represent about one-third of priests in the US.

• On January 9, the National Catholic Reporter reported that 74 New York priests signed a letter to Cardinal Edward Egan, accusing him of not supporting priests accused of sexual abuse and requesting a meeting with him.

• In a remarkable move, the official bishops’ newsletter, Origins, published a statement by the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, on February 5, explaining why the diocese did not participate in the John Jay survey on sexual abuse (seePostscript below). The statement listed 10 reasons, following a six-point introduction outlining the legalistic reasons it did not want to comply with the survey.

• On February 6, Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of Springfield in Massachusetts resigned following accusations of sexual abuse by two men who claimed he abused them when they were 12 and 15. Dupre cited poor health as the reason for his resignation, but may become the first bishop to face criminal charges as a result of the sex abuse scandal.

• On February 17, Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien of Phoenix, Arizona, who admitted that he covered up allegations of sexual abuse by priests for decades, was convicted in a hit-and-run incident in which he left the scene after knocking down somebody crossing the road. The pedestrian, Jim Reed, later died and O’Brien’s resignation was immediately accepted by the pope. It is thought that O’Brien is the first Roman Catholic bishop in US history to be convicted of a felony.

• The Archdiocese of Los Angeles became the third diocese to release the names of those accused of abuse on February 18, when it issued a report containing the names of 244 priests, brothers, deacons and seminarians who had abused 656 minors since 1930. The Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Diocese of Tucson have also issued the names of those accused of abuse.

• A draft of a Vatican-sponsored report issued February 23 called for an end to the US bishops’ zero-tolerance policy towards clerical abusers, saying it discouraged priests from seeking help and treatment.

• On February 27, the US bishops issued a report on the numbers of priests accused of sexually abusing minors and people in their care. The report, undertaken by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was widely leaked, and revealed that some 4,392 priests abused at least 10,667 minors during the past 50 years—some four percent of all priests in the time period—with at least $572 million paid in legal settlements and treatment costs so far.

• On the same day the National Review Board—the lay group appointed by the bishops’ conference to investigate the causes of the crisis and ensure compliance with new regulations—issued its report. Citing “shameful” failings, it said that the “failure of the bishops…has seriously undermined the confidence of the laity in the leadership of the church.” The board chairman, Robert S. Bennett, said that there “must be consequences” for those bishops, leaders of religious orders and administrators who either acted criminally or negligently in failing to prevent abuse.

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The Church and State

Bishop Ignites Row over Separation of Church and State
Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse in Wisconsin has instructed diocesan priests to withhold communion from prochoice Catholic lawmakers until they “publicly renounce” their support of abortion rights.

Since signing the decree in November 2003 (it was made public in January 2004) Burke has been transferred to St. Louis, Missouri, and it is thought that he may introduce similar restrictions on Catholic politicians there. In the decree, Burke said, “I hereby call upon Catholic legislators, who are members of the faithful in the Diocese of La Crosse, to uphold the natural and divine law regarding the inviolable dignity of all human life. To fail to do so is a grave public sin and gives scandal to all the faithful.” The politicians, he continued, “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should they present themselves, until such time as they publicly renounce their support of these unjust practices.”

Subsequently, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of Louisiana joined Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston in calling for prochoice Catholic politicians to voluntarily stop receiving Communion, stating that those officeholders “shouldn’t dare come to Communion.” And Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City instructed Catholic institutions in his archdiocese not to allow prochoice politicians or public figures to participate in functions or events on church-owned property.

“This is about as stark a decree to come down against Catholic politicians as we’ve seen in recent history,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “The problem with it is that elected officials have to represent people of all faiths and none, and not adhere to one religious demand like the bishop’s.”

There is only one previous recorded instance where a bishop publicly penalized a lay Catholic politician for her prochoice position: in 1989, Bishop Leo Maher of San Diego barred Lucy Killea, a prochoice state legislator, from receiving Communion in the diocese.

According to canon law, any punishment may only be imposed according to the rule of law, and must include a process allowing a reasonable time to defend oneself, including a fair, legal process. However, the people who have oversight of these processes are often the very ones who have a vested interest in the outcome of a case—the hierarchy—which also controls the availability of the sacraments, and the actions of most ministers and employees of the church. While there may sometimes be restrictions on when and where the sacraments will be celebrated, the unjust denial of the sacraments to a Catholic or to a group of Catholics is regarded negatively by most and seems to obstruct the very work the church sets out to fulfill.

Roman Catholicism Classes Compulsory in Spain’s Schools
Spain’s former government, under Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, passed a law requiring all students to take a religion class. For most students, this means a class in Catholic dogma, taught by church officials. There is a secular alternative on world religions, but critics have said this differs little from the Catholic class. Marks from the class count towards final grades. The president of Spain’s teachers’ union has charged that students must now spend more time on religion than physics or chemistry. Only 19 percent of Spaniards attend church services regularly.

Bishops Oppose Gay Marriage
Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston and three other bishops in Massachusetts have called on Catholics in their dioceses to oppose granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. They have initiated a direct mail campaign to 1 million households, urging opposition to any legislative move to legalize homosexual unions. The legislature in Massachusetts ruled in November 2003 that denying marriage rights to homosexuals is unconstitutional. President George W. Bush has announced that he will support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

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Catholic Healthcare

California Court Rules against Catholic Charities in Contraceptive Equity Case
The California Supreme Court has ruled that a Catholic charity must provide employees with contraceptive coverage. In a six to one decision, the first of its kind in the US, the court ruled that while religious employers are exempt from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage if their health plans cover other prescription medicines, an organization like Catholic Charities—which filed a suit seeking an exemption—is different because it is not a religious employer. Catholic Charities offers services to people of all faiths, without directly preaching Catholic values.

California implemented the Women’s Contraceptive Equity Act in 2000, which requires that all healthcare plans including coverage for prescription drugs also include contraceptive coverage. The act does exempt “religious employers,” identified as only those who meet the IRS definition of “church” and who function primarily to promote their religion and to serve those of the same faith. Catholic Charities of Sacramento filed a lawsuit with the California Court of Appeals, Catholic Charities v. State of California, et al., charging that the law does not allow adequate exemptions for religious affiliations, thereby violating constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, equal protection and free speech.

The judges ruled that Catholic Charities does not meet the requirements for exemption, as it is primarily a welfare agency employing and serving many non-Catholics. Experts said the ruling could affect thousands of workers at church-backed hospitals and institutions in California and prompt other states to fashion similar laws.

California is one of 20 states to require that all company-provided health plans must include contraception coverage if the plans have prescription drug benefits.

Catholics for a Free Choice led a coalition of progressive Catholic groups, including Catholics Speak Out/The Quixote Center, Dignity/USA, Vermont Catholics for a Free Conscience, California Catholics for a Free Choice, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual and the Women’s Ordination Conference, to file an amici brief supporting the law and women’s right to contraceptive access, while illustrating that Catholic Charities had no legal right to claim an exemption and no moral right to claim that the law violates their religious freedom.

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The Church and Contraception

Mexican Government Licenses Emergency Contraception
The Mexican government has decided to permit the sale of emergency contraception as part of an overall review of family planning guidelines. Advocates immediately welcomed the decision, saying that it will transform family planning and cut down on backstreet abortions. Emergency contraception is a higher dose of regular hormonal pills, and, taken within 72 hours of intercourse, works to delay ovulation, prevent fertilization of an egg or prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the womb.

“This is a big step forward, because now public health clinics will be able to prescribe this drug to all women who need it,” said activist Patricia Mercado, who also called the threats by the Catholic church to excommunicate those who use the drug “scare tactics against women” that would be unlikely to have much effect.

However, the hierarchy of the Catholic church in Mexico denounced the decision, with bishops threatening to excommunicate women who took the pills.

The archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, was among those who were very outspoken in their opposition to the move, claiming that the government was permitting “murder of the innocents.” Other church leaders said that women who take the pills will face excommunication.

Jorge Palencia, a priest in charge of health in the Archdiocese of Mexico City, told the Spanish news agency EFE, “The church cannot stay silent faced with genocide of the magnitude which is on its way.”

The government defended the new guidelines, which include approval for the female condom. “In Mexico, it wasn’t possible earlier to include (the pills) in official family planning laws because of the opposition of conservative groups who absurdly qualified it as abortive,” said Gregorio Perez, the health department’s former director of reproductive health.

María Consuelo Mejía, the former director of the Mexican group Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (Catholics for the Right to Decide), said that recent polls show that Catholics do not agree with the fundamentalist positions taken by the hierarchy, “which violate the fundamental principle of the church, that of freedom of conscience.” She continued, “the bishops should not try to impose their moral code, which is only supported by a minority of Catholics, on everybody.”

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The Church and Abortion

Move to Ease Abortion Laws in Poland
Lawmakers in Poland are set to present a bill easing the abortion law, which ranks with Ireland and Malta as Europe’s most restrictive. As well as easing the law surrounding abortion, the bill would permit sex education, guarantee access to contraception and allow couples access to assisted pregnancy techniques. Recent surveys show that some 60 percent of Poles favor easing the abortion law.

John Paul II Canonizes Woman who Died Rather than Have an Abortion
Pope John Paul II has announced that he will canonize Gianna Beretta Molla on May 16. Molla was a pediatrician who, pregnant with her fourth child, died of cancer rather than seek treatment for a tumor in her uterus. She refused to have the abortion that would have allowed treatment that might have saved her life.

Catholic University to Continue Use of Cells from Aborted Fetuses
Georgetown University Medical Center, a Catholic institution in Washington, DC, has announced that it will continue to use cells from aborted fetuses in research. After a complaint from an antiabortion group, an internal ethical review made the decision after consulting with scientists involved in the research, who argued that ending the use of the cells in question would jeopardize years of work and funding. Some of the involved cell lines were derived from cells that were harvested from aborted fetuses in Europe nearly 40 years ago, while others are more recent.

According to the Washington Post, Rev. Kevin T. FitzGerald, a university bioethicist, argued that the benefits to society far outweigh the harm done by using the cells, because the abortions were not performed for the purpose of providing the cells to scientists. “Obviously, we don’t live in an ideal world. We do the best we can,” he said.

Portuguese Parliament Refuses to Re-examine Abortion Law
Despite massive public support for a referendum on easing abortion legislation, the Portuguese parliament refused to revisit the situation, despite a court acquitting seven women accused of having abortions, the doctor involved and nine “accomplices” charged in the case.

Prochoice campaigners had used the case to highlight the need for law reform, and collected some 121,000 signatures on a petition to the Portuguese parliament, demanding that it hold another national referendum on abortion. The signatures met the legal stipulation of 75,000 names for the question of a referendum to be considered by the parliament.

A similar referendum on the subject in 1998 was narrowly rejected by 51 percent to 49 percent. Despite intensive campaigning for and against the changes by many prominent Portuguese figures, only 32 percent of the electorate turned out for that vote.

A recent poll showed nearly three-quarters of Portuguese adults want a new referendum to be held, and more than two-thirds would vote to liberalize access to abortion. Advocates estimate that there are as many as 40,000 illegal abortions each year, and the health ministry has released figures showing that five women died and some 11,000 women required hospital treatment after clandestine abortions in 2003.

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The Church and HIV/AIDS

Bishops Come Out in Favor of Condoms
Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels and Mechelen (Belgium), in an interview with the Dutch Catholic broadcaster RKK argued, “When someone is HIV-positive and his partner says, ‘I want to have sexual relations with you,’ he doesn’t have to do that…. But when he does, he has to use a condom.” He was responding in part to a statement by Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo—a senior adviser to the pope—who claimed on a BBC television program that condoms do not work because “the AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.” Danneels’ supportive statement about condoms follows statements made by Bishop Kevin Dowling from Rustenburg, South Africa, who has regularly spoken out in favor of condoms as an AIDS prevention tool. In a recent issue of U.S. Catholic, Bishop Dowling wrote an article entitled, “Let’s not condemn condoms in the fight against AIDS,” in which he stated, “I believe our credibility as a church is on the line here. For me, the condom…question is not simply a matter of chastity but of justice.”

Brazilian Government Promotes Condoms in Expanded AIDS Program
The Brazilian government has decided to ignore the protests of the Catholic hierarchy and expand its campaign to promote the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The director of Brazil’s anti-AIDS program went further, stating in an open letter that the hierarchy “is wrong to insist that condoms don’t protect and could be committing one more crime against humanity.” More than 80 percent of Brazil’s 178 million people call themselves Catholic and health officials estimate that some 600,000 Brazilians are HIV positive.

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“I did not come here to celebrate the birth of Christ with you but to ask you why you are not in mourning for his death inside this place. God has been a witness to the corruption of his leadership, of the exploitation and abuses…by the clergy.”
Singer Lauryn Hill, during the recording of a Christmas concert attended by top Vatican cardinals and bishops. [1]

“To hell with Moscow.”
Fr. Robert Taft of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, responding to a question about links with the Russian Orthodox church. Days later a “groundbreaking” agreement was forged between the two churches.[2]

“I am prepared to sign here in my blood that all of those who say they are lesbian or gay, at most five to 10 percent are effectively lesbian or gay. All the rest are just sexual perverts. Don’t hesitate to write that down. I demand you write it down. If they [homosexuals] come to protest on my doorstep, I don’t care. I will not open the door.”
Cardinal Gustaaf Joos in an interview with P-Magazine, a soft-porn publication in Belgium. [3]

“Politics, democracy. Don’t make me laugh. The right to vote, what is that all about? I think it is strange that a snot-nosed, 18-year-old has the same vote as a father of seven. One has no responsibilities whatsoever, the other provides tomorrow’s citizens.”
Cardinal Gustaaf Joos again. [4]

“Has any other group within the Body of Christ been so assaulted and violated by such mean-spirited language? … Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?”
Text from an “Open Letter to the Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church,” by 23 Chicago priests protesting “the increase in the use of violent and abusive language” directed at gays and lesbians by the church hierarchy. [5]

“Time has shown how unfounded the basic ideas of [the sexual] revolution were, but even more it has left us with an indisputable testimony of its harmful effects. [Its] bitter fruits [include] an alarming increase in domestic violence, sexual and violent abuses of all types, even of minors in the same family.”
From a document from the Spanish bishops’ conference on family matters. [6]

“It’s not entirely coordinated up there [at the Vatican].”
An anonymous Vatican official, speaking of the pope’s on/off “endorsement” of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. [7]

“Serious sins against the Eighth Commandment are likely to be part of the result of the study: detraction, calumny, slander, contumely, etc.”
One of the ten reasons given by the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, why it did not participate in the survey by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice into sexual abuse by priests. [8]

“When someone is HIV-positive and his partner says, ‘I want to have sexual relations with you,’ he doesn’t have to do that, if you ask me. But, when he does, he has to use a condom…in order not to disobey the commandment condemning murder.”
Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels and Mechelen (Belgium). [9]

“[Artificial contraception is] objectively morally wrong [but is] a matter for the parents to decide, taking into consideration a number of other criteria. … [It is important to] move towards a policy which stressed much more the empowerment of women and education of women to allow them to make responsible choices.”
Dr. Diarmuid Martin, coadjutor archbishop of Dublin. [10]

“I think that the church has relied too much on experts. Our reliance upon experts is one of the great faults of the post-modernist society.”
Cardinal Francis Stafford, an American appointed in October to head the Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican. [11]

“No one thought much about it. … They did good ministry, they were good to their people, they were kind, compassionate, but they had no idea what they were doing to these young men that they were abusing. It was the era of the ‘60s—most of it took place from the mid-’60s to the early-’80s—and the whole atmosphere out there was, it was OK, it was OK to do.”
Monsignor Richard S. Snieyk, interim leader of the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts, explaining sexual abuse by priests. [12]


[1] Philip Pullella, “Singer Lauryn Hill blasts church at Vatican concert,” Reuters, December 14, 2003.
[2] John L. Allen, “The Word from Rome,” National Catholic Reporter, February 6, 2004.
[3] Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “Fury at cardinal who attacked gays as ‘perverts’,” Daily Telegraph (UK), January 22, 2004.
[4] Ibid.
[5] National Catholic Reporter, January 9, 2004.
[6] Ciaran Giles, “Spaniards angered as bishops claim domestic violence is ‘bitter fruit’ of sexual revolution,” Associated Press, February 4, 2004.
[7] Frank Bruni, “Mystery drama, with the pope cast as movie critic,” New York Times, January 23, 2004.
[8] Origins, February 5, 2004.
[9] John Hooper and Andrew Osborn, “Cardinal backs use of condoms,” Guardian (UK), January 13, 2004.
[10] Colin Murphy, “Archbishop speaks of birth control ‘choices’,” Tablet (UK), January 3, 2004.
[11] John L. Allen, “The Word from Rome,” National Catholic Reporter, January 30, 2004.
[12] John McElhenny, “Monsignor says harm of abuse wasn’t recognized,” Boston Globe, February 23, 2004.

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