In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Winter 2004-05

In this issue:

The Church and Condoms
The Church and Women
The Church and State
The Church and Abortion
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
End Notes

The Church and Condoms

Cardinal O’Connor Speaks Out in Support of Condoms for HIV/AIDS Prevention
In a wide-ranging interview with the Independent, a London-based daily newspaper, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has articulated his support for a more progressive position on condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

When asked about the use of condoms in Africa to protect against HIV infection and death, the cardinal responded: “First, I’d say that it’s right for the church to preach chastity, that sexual intercourse is for within marriage. But God knows, people just do not live up to ideals. While we can say that, objectively, the use of condoms is wrong, there are places where it might be licit, or allowable, as when there’s a danger of intercourse leading to death. It would be wrong to take a special case and make it a universal law. There is such a thing as objective morality, where things are either right or wrong; but there are also subjective matters that affect whether a thing is slightly wrong or not wrong at all. That’s what we’re talking about in this case. So I would agree with Cardinal Danneels’s position.”

Earlier this year, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium told the Roman Catholic television program “Kruispunt” in the Netherlands that any HIV-positive person who decides not to abstain and has sex without using a condom, would be sinning against the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Recently, Cardinal Danneels remarked, “For one who does not want or cannot follow this path [of chastity and faithfulness] and who opts to engage in unsafe sexual behavior, it is morally justifiable to use a condom. Indeed it is never permissible to transmit death. On the matter, one may invoke the principle of lesser evil. Other cardinals and bishops all over the world share this perspective.”
Catholic College Confiscates Newspaper Containing Condom Column
La Roche College, a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, confiscated 900 copies of the student newspaper, La Roche Courier. The newspaper contained a column by its editor, Nicole Johnson, suggesting that “condoms and other forms of contraception could eliminate unwanted babies out of wedlock.” The article was questioning why there were pamphlets available to students explaining where they could drop off unwanted babies, but no information about condoms. Johnson called the college’s actions “disgraceful.”

College authorities explained that they were hosting an open house while the paper was available, that the column was not consistent with school policy or Catholic values and that they did not want to create any “misunderstanding” for prospective students. Linda Jordan Platt, the director of college writing and adviser to the paper, said the school supports academic and press freedom on campus and that the removal of the papers was “not an attempt to censor opinions of students.”

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The Church and Women

Vatican Document on Feminism Inspires “Anger and Amusement”
A 37-page Vatican document on feminism, “On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” attracted significant media attention. The document, drafted by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and personally approved by Pope John Paul II, states that women “should be respected and have equal rights in the workplace, but differences between the sexes must be recognized and exalted.” It claims that the “subordination” of women had provoked them to “make themselves the adversaries of men,” with the “most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family” and that modern feminism’s fight for power and gender equality “call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent.” The document also restates many church teachings, including the hierarchy’s opposition to women priests.

Europeans Elect Antichoice Catholic as Head of Women’s Committee
A Catholic member of the European Parliament from Slovakia has been elected president of the European Parliament’s women’s committee. The MEP, Anna Zaborska, has described AIDS as “God’s vengeance for homosexuality” and is vehemently antiabortion. She was elected as a result of a deal between the two biggest political groups in the parliament— the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the Party of European Socialists (PES)—that saw socialist MEP Pervenche Beres become president of the influential economic and monetary affairs committee.

Six More Women Ordained
The women’s ordination Conference has reported that six women were ordained as priests in a service on the Danube River in Europe. Two female bishops, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger of Austria and Gisela Forster of Germany, and an “alternative” Roman Catholic male bishop, Rafael Regelsberger of Austria, officiated. The women came from Canada, France, Switzerland and Latvia, with two from the US. In 2002, seven women including Mayr-Lumetzberger and Forster were ordained to the priesthood, but almost immediately excommunicated by the Vatican.

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The Church and State

Environmentalists and Feminists Question Concordat between Spain and Holy See
Environmentalists and feminists are calling on the Spanish socialist government to review the financial aspects of the 1979 Concordat between Spain and the Holy See. A Concordat is an official agreement made between the pope and a government to regulate ecclesiastical affairs in that state. Activists claim that the agreement gives the church “privileged funding.” The church hierarchy has been outspoken recently against proposals to legalize same-sex marriage and to allow the adoption of children by homosexuals. The recent Vatican document on women was also a factor in the timing of the announcement.

Spanish congresswoman Joan Herrera said that the state should not provide funding to those who make “statements that jeopardize equality” instead of “playing a neutral role.” Angeles Alvarez, spokeswoman for the Network of Feminist Organizations against Gender Violence, announced a petition calling for the government to review the Concordat, saying that the church “defends sexism by defending the stereotypical role of women and by attacking the principles of equality. Spaniards need to reflect on the fact that the state cannot continue to maintain a privileged relationship with an organization that attacks the rights of half of the population.”

Three Bishops Join the “Coalition of the Few” Who Would Deny Communion to Prochoice Politicians
Three more bishops have issued a joint statement that they will deny communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights unless they recant and receive the consent of their bishop. The bishops of Atlanta, Charlotte, NC, and Charleston, SC, stated that prochoice politicians “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in any Catholic church within our jurisdictions.” CFFC president Frances Kissling told the Religion News Service that the Atlanta ruling was one of the most punitive policies adopted by the bishops. She continued, “it sounds to me like there’s a lot of process and none of it is due process.” However, a close reading of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s confidential memo to Washington’s Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, head of a commission of US bishops on Catholics in political life, notes that “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Republican Catholic Outreach Campaign Leader Resigns
Deal Hudson, publisher of the conservative Catholic monthly, Crisis, and leader of President George W. Bush’s outreach effort to Catholic voters, resigned from both positions after Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter exposed a sexual scandal concerning a vulnerable female student when Hudson was a tenured professor of philosophy at Fordham University 10 years ago.

Despite Hudson’s sordid past, Feuerherd notes that he was not afraid to pontificate on the failings of others. After orchestrating the firing of an employee at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who organized the “Catholics for Kerry” website, Hudson was unrepentant. “If you’re going to play in the sandbox,” Hudson said, “then you have to take the consequences of your public utterances and your public actions.”

The response from conservative groups threw into question these organizations’ claims to be acting in the best interests of women. The American Life League decried the “recent negative media reports regarding Deal Hudson.” Jim Anderson, writing on, described the furor as an “error in judgment, a sin, a one-time fault,” comparing Hudson’s actions to a “child who makes a mess and cleans it up before others need to.” Anderson was concerned that it would now be “a little tougher for ordinary people like you or I to get our concerns heard by the White House.”

In a statement, Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, said “Hudson and his colleagues on the right have conducted a particularly ugly style of politics. They have shown no regard for civility or respect in their encounters, articles and other commentary on those who disagree with them. Perhaps they will learn something as they experience a small taste of what they have dished out for so long.”

Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, succeeded Hudson as head of “Catholic Outreach” for the Republican National Committee.

Conservative Groups Flout Laws on Tax-exemption
Conservative Catholic groups, as expected, sought to play a significant role in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election. In several instances, these groups violated both the letter and the spirit of the law governing tax-exempt entities, whereby organizations and religious institutions agree to neither explicitly nor implicitly endorse or oppose any specific candidate for elected office.

CFFC filed several complaints with the IRS about the abuse of tax-exempt status, including one against Operation Rescue West in July for running an ad in the Wanderer, an ultra-conservative national Catholic weekly, asking readers to make a contribution to help “defeat [John Kerry] in November and enable President Bush to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court Justice to finally overturn Roe v. Wade.” In May, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint against Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Colorado Springs diocese who said he would deny communion to both prochoice Catholic politicians and Catholics who vote for candidates who are prochoice.

In September and October, CFFC filed other complaints against Catholic Answers, Inc. for an ad in regional editions ofUSA Today calling on Catholics to “eliminate from consideration candidates” who are “wrong” on what it called the “non-negotiable” issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and euthanasia. (Karl Keating, president of Catholic Answers, had previously said that Sen. Kerry “is wrong on all those issues”); against the Culture of Life Foundation for circulating an email labeling Sen. Kerry as a “bad Catholic” and explaining why faithful Catholics may not vote for “pro-abortion politicians;” and against Priests for Life, which asserted on its website that “any candidate who says abortion should be kept legal disqualifies him/herself from public service.” All these statements contravene IRS guidelines on how tax-exempt organizations may conduct themselves.
Come Again?

It appears that the Catholic League had second thoughts about its press release on the Deal Hudson scandal, which demeaned the troubled young woman who Hudson sexually abused. (See full story above.) League president Bill Donohue described the abuse as a “sexual harassment charge against Deal Hudson—one that was made almost a decade ago by a drunken female he met in a bar.” Shortly after it came out, the League’s release suddenly disappeared from its website without comment. At press time, its whereabouts is unknown. As Charlotte Hays put it on, “One thing you’ve got to say about the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights: It’ll never be known as the Catholic League for Chivalry toward Women.”

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The Church and Abortion

Antichoice Mexican Group Found With its Hands in the Till
An investigation by prochoice groups in Mexico has shown that one of the nation’s leading antichoice organizations, Pro-Vida Mexico, misused thousands of dollars of government funds on purchases as bizarre as thongs, bras and Mont Blanc pens.

An investigation started by the prochoice group Equidad de Género in July 2003 into a $2.6 million grant to the group, which was appropriated to open a dozen Women’s Support Centers to talk women out of having abortions, determined that the allocation of the funds was illegal. A subsequent investigation under Mexican freedom of information laws into how the funds had been used found that Pro-Vida had spent more than 80 percent of the funds on “publicity.” This included $882,457 to challenge the availability of emergency contraception, a campaign some considered questionable for centers whose purpose is to provide direct help to women.

The research also found that Pro-Vida had bought a set of Mont Blanc pens for $1,058, clothes from Zara, Sears, Aca Joe and a top line department store, the Palacio de Hierro. Included in its clothing purchases were thongs and brassieres. All were listed under the budget item “support for women.” Subsequent media investigations discovered that one of the women’s centers was carrying out clandestine abortions.

The Mexico City Legislative Assembly has requested an in-depth investigation into the designation of the funding which may lead to civil and/or penal charges against Pro- Vida officials. Further funding to Pro-Vida has also been cut off pending the investigation.
Italy May Limit Access to Abortion
Antonio Gentile, a senator in Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, has proposed a new law that will limit free abortions to one per woman, after which those who can pay will be charged between 2,000-3,000 euros ($2,400-$3,600). The suggestion seems to be in line with a pro-natalist policy currently in force in Italy, under which the government offered a “baby bonus” of $1,200 for every second child born by the end of the year.

However, other moves to restrict access to infertility treatment suggest another story. A February 2004 law that granted embryos equal rights to women was seen as a sop to conservative Catholics. The Medically Assisted Reproduction Law restricted IVF treatment to “stable” couples and banned sperm donation and surrogate motherhood. In addition, embryos cannot be frozen or used for research and women must have three embryos implanted at once, raising the risk of younger women carrying triplets and reducing the chances of the treatment helping older women to conceive. Its effects were immediate. Within months a number of couples had to go to court to try to have a selective reduction in cases where serious threats to their health and their pregnancies emerged. Parliament may soon be forced to consider amending the law.

Member of the European parliament Emma Bonino, formerly the European commissioner for humanitarian affairs, told the Guardian (UK): “More and more, we Italians are not European citizens, we are Vatican citizens. Every day we wake up and find there is something new designed to take away women’s right to choose.”
Abortion Legislation in Brazil?
In July, the Brazilian government sponsored a National Conference on Women’s Public Policies in Brasilia which called for reform of the penal code to make abortion legal. The call for reform comes immediately after a preliminary Supreme Court decision on termination of pregnancy in cases of anencephaly (when a fetus develops without a brain or with a severely malformed brain). The court case was brought by the National Confederation of Health Workers which was concerned about the fact that some 7,000 couples were forced to seek court action to allow them to have an abortion. Courts granted some 97 percent of requests. The Brazilian bishops’ conference is the only organization that spoke out against the preliminary order.

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The Sexual Abuse Crisis

Vatican Closes Austrian Seminary at Center of Pornography Scandal
The Vatican closed a seminary in the diocese of St. Poelten, Austria, which was at the center of a massive sex scandal, including the widespread use of pornography. The decision came a matter of weeks after Pope John Paul II had taken the unusual step of sending an Opus Dei priest, Bishop Klaus Küng of Feldkirch, to investigate the scandal. The bishop in charge of the seminary, Kurt Krenn, has also resigned. Police started an investigation towards the end of last year when they discovered some 40,000 pornographic photos and numerous sexually explicit videos at the seminary. A Polish student has been charged with distribution and possession of child pornography and faces two years in prison if convicted. The scandal comes soon after another, involving accusations that the prelate of Austria, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, had sexually abused a number of boys. Cardinal Groër, who resigned in 1998, died last year.

News Update

• The Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon became the first archdiocese in the nation to file for bankruptcy protection because of likely damage settlements in sexual abuse cases.

• Fifty-two priests were accused of sexual abuse in England and Wales during 2003 by 86 people, but so far none has been prosecuted and 50 still hold their jobs.

• The Springfield Diocese in Illinois has reached a settlement worth more than $7 million with 46 people who accused priests of molesting them when they were children.

Come Again?

The Tablet, a liberal Catholic weekly magazine published in the UK, recently described the Vatican’s appointment of Mary Ann Glendon to be head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as “a welcome appointment.” The new post makes her, according to the Boston Globe, “the highest-ranking female adviser in the Catholic church.” She was also the first woman to lead a delegation of the Holy See, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. She has previously served on the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and as a consultant to the Pontifical Council on the Family. She is on the US President’s Council on Bioethics and the editorial board of the conservative Catholic journal, First Things. Glendon refused, however to serve on the US bishop’s National Review Board that is investigating the sexual abuse scandal citing her fear that “the bishops may not have informed themselves adequately concerning whether the members of this important board understand and accept the Church’s basic teachings on ecclesiology, the role of the laity, and human sexuality” and complaining that the Board’s existence made it possible that “the bishops will be held accountable to lay people….”

The Tablet’s support for Glendon is surprising, as she is a frequent spokesperson for the Vatican party line on feminism (she’s against it), gay rights and obviously most reproductive health measures.

Glendon’s understanding of feminism is certainly one-sided. She described 1970s feminism as “an anomaly … a puzzling combination of two things that don’t ordinarily go together: anger against men and promiscuity; man-hating and man-chasing.” And she turned most people’s understanding of reality on its head when she described the Catholic church as “one of the world’s most energetic champions of the freedom and dignity of women.”

Glendon has been one of the leading legal experts for gay marriage opponents in the Massachusetts legislature.

At the UN conference on women, Glendon unequivocally condemned the use of condoms, even to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. A delegation statement that she presented noted, “The Holy See in no way endorses contraception or the use of condoms, either as a family planning measure or in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.”

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End Notes

Lay Workers Resign after Bishop Imposes Oath of Loyalty
Six Catholics have resigned from their positions in the diocese of Baker, Ore., because they did not want to sign a letter confirming their adherence to church teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. The letter was distributed by Bishop Robert Vasa as an “Affirmation of Personal Faith” which asked lay workers in the diocese to affirm their support for church teachings, including those on the “inviolability of human life, the sinfulness of contraception, the evil of extra-marital sexual relationships, the unacceptability of homosexual relationships, the wrongness of cohabitation before marriage.” One parishioner, Tom Dolezal, pointed out that if the bishop was to exclude all those who had any doubts about church teaching, “he’s going to exclude 100 percent of the church, including himself.”

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“In African countries condom-based anti-AIDS campaigns are generally ineffective, partly because for an African man his manliness is expressed by making as many children as possible. For him, condoms covert sex into a meaningless activity.”
— Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, an Opus Dei priest and professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. [Tablet (UK)“The truth about condoms,” July 10, 2004]

“The UN folks aren’t that good. They aren’t that smart. I have been up close and personal with UN personnel for many years and I will tell you that they’re not smart enough to put on a cocktail party in a distillery…. Our whole game is to make the Muslims as mad as possible at the radical feminists. If that happens, we win. Nothing like a Muslim in full-throated outrage at a radical feminist from the United States.”
— Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM, an antichoice NGO based in New York. [Speech to the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation’s 20th anniversary annual conference, in Dallas, Texas, February 28, 2004]

“Most people burned at the stake were asphyxiated. They didn’t feel the flames.”
— Marc Balesteiri, who brought a heresy lawsuit against John Kerry,explaining how previous heresy trials didn’t end all that badly for those found guilty. [Harold Meyerson, “Vast right-wing conspiracy,” American Prospect, August 2004.]

“Maternity has become such an exhibition. The child who will be born is no longer a human being to protect in the womb but becomes the unwitting accomplice of a sad game it cannot get out of.”
 L’Osservatore Romano, the semiofficial Vatican newspaper, complains about Monica Bellucci, who played Mary Magdalene in “The Passion of the Christ,” posing naked in Vanity Fair cradling her very pregnant belly. [Tablet (UK), “Mamma Mia,” July 31, 2004]

“A schoolboy prank.”
— Bishop Kurt Krenn, former head of the diocese of St Polten, Austria, describing photographs showing seminarians and priests in sexual situations at a seminary under his control. [Stephen Kampowski, “Photographic evidence,” Catholic World Report, August/September 2004]

“The pope says women are important—but we should stay at home and be important there. He is telling women to stop fighting when there’s more fighting to do. But this isn’t a fight against men; it’s a fight for our rights. Why can’t women say mass, I wonder? What I’d like to see is the pope with a beautiful female cardinal at his side.”
— Alessandra Mussolini, a right-wing Italian MEP, on the Vatican’s statement on women. [Guardian (UK), “Is the Pope a feminist?” August 5, 2004]

“Who are these people [on the National Review Board]? Who voted for Justice Burke? Who voted for Dr. [Pamela] Hayes? Who voted for any of them? They’re just there.”
— Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz rails against the USCCB-appointed task force that oversees compliance with the sexual charter. [Catholic World Report, “Who’s in charge?” May 2004]

“I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life.”
— Tom Coburn, the Catholic Republican candidate for the US Senate in Oklahoma. [Associated Press, “Coburn different kind of political cat,” July 9, 2004]

“But you do realize I am a woman?”
— Gabriella Tona, the new head of the Jesuit-run Leo XIII Institute in Milan, on hearing that she had been appointed as the first female head of the school. [Richard Owen, “Jesuit choice of woman to lead school is hailed as ‘revolution’,” Times (UK), August 3, 2004]

Catholics for Choice