In Catholic Circles
An International News Roundup
In this issue:
Buttiglione Forced to Withdraw
Following outrage from members of the European Parliament and a campaign by progressive groups, both religious and secular, Rocco Buttiglione, an ultraconservative Catholic with close ties to the pope, withdrew from consideration for appointment to the governing body of the European Union, the 25-person European Commission.
In a letter to the president of the European Parliament organized by Catholics for a Free Choice and signed by some 150 Catholics from 10 European Union countries, the signatories outlined their opposition to Buttiglione. “We are deeply concerned about a possible appointment of Rocco Buttiglione as Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice, because Mr. Buttiglione has a dismal record on women’s rights and the civil rights of homosexuals and as a Minister of European Affairs for Italy has not upheld the EU principle of non-discrimination in his own country. As European Catholics we disagree with Rocco Buttiglione’s positions on the family, on homosexuals, on women, as well as on his promotion of camps for asylum-seekers at the borders of the EU. His positions on these issues do not reflect mainstream Catholic attitudes.”
After his forced withdrawal, Buttiglione responded by launching a ‘theo-con’ movement against what he described as “anti-Catholic totalitarianism” and a “new inquisition.” “If they want a Catholic witch to burn, then here I am,” he said during a series of debates called, “The Trial of the Catholic Witch.” However, Giulio Andreotti, a Christian Democrat and one of Italy’s foremost politicians, compared him to Don Quixote, battling against non-existent windmills of discrimination. “We must be very careful not to erect barriers that divide people into Christians and non-Christians,” Andreotti said. Writing in the Independent, a London daily newspaper, Joan Smith continued this theme, stating, “There have been dark mutterings about anti-Catholic and anti-Christian prejudice, as though Buttiglione is somehow the victim in all this, when the simple truth is that his views are in direct conflict with notions of equality and civil rights enshrined in European and national conventions.” (For more on Rocco Buttiglione, click here to see CFFC’s fact sheet)
US Bishops Decline to Issue Guidelines on Prochoice Catholic Politicians
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops held its fall general meeting in Washington, DC, during November. The meeting, which generally discusses administrative matters, finished a day early. However, in the time they did spend together, the bishops elected Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., as their new president, and Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago as vice-president. Skylstad is widely seen as a moderate who has not played a leading role in antiabortion campaigns. The previous president, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, was subsequently appointed by the pope to head the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Despite intense pressure from the Catholic right, the bishops declined to issue a binding instruction to dioceses as to whether or not to deny communion to prochoice Catholic politicians—an issue that was of high importance during the US presidential elections. (The week before the bishops’ meeting, a group of priests in Milwaukee issued a statement opposing such a sanction, stating that they did not believe that “coercive techniques: orders, sanctions and harsh public statements serve the Catholic church in our American culture.”)
In decisions related to the sexual abuse scandal, the bishops decided to collate annual reports on new sex abuse allegations against clergy and other church workers and on the settlement of existing cases. They also decided that the regular audits of dioceses to see how well they were complying with the child-protection programs developed by the National Review Board would be largely self-reporting in 2005. Dioceses that met the standards outlined in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People may choose to avoid on-site audits by the group employed by the bishops, the Boston-based Gavin Group. More than 10% of dioceses were not in compliance with the required norms by the end of 2003. This drew criticism from victims’ advocates who argued that self-regulation and voluntary reporting go against the spirit and the letter of the Charter.
Catholic Aid Group Supports Condom Use
In an article written for the Tablet, a UK-based Catholic weekly, the HIV Corporate Strategist for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Ann Smith, elucidated a nuanced approach to
condom-use that is at odds with the church hierarchy’s adamant opposition to their use, even in cases where a husband or wife is infected with HIV/AIDS.
Smith wrote, “Sadly, all too often the debate over HIV prevention has involved a contest between ‘condom only’ or ‘abstinence/fidelity only’ solutions. These have often been hijacked by political, religious or cultural agendas in turn fueled by mutual distrust and prejudices. A third, middle ground approach known as ABC, “Abstain, Be faithful, Use a Condom,” has also emerged. But all three approaches often assume oversimplistic solutions for an idealized world in which all individuals are free to make empowered choices. This is not the reality for most people worldwide affected by HIV. CAFOD’ s approach seeks to take into account the complex social, cultural and economic factors that influence behaviors and condition choices, most particularly (but not only) in countries of the South where the impact of AIDS has been disproportionately catastrophic.”
The paper, originally presented at the XV World AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, during July 2004, drew criticism from conservative Catholics, but perhaps tellingly, the church hierarchy in the UK had nothing to say on the matter. Days after the article appeared, CAFOD issued a clarification that it did not “fund the supply, distribution or promotion of condoms.”
New Federal Employees Health Plan Does Not Cover Reproductive Services
Federal employees in Illinois have been offered a Catholic-run health insurance plan that does not cover abortion, contraceptives or fertility treatment—the first of its kind to be offered to federal workers. The introduction of the plan is part of President George W. Bush’s much heralded faith-based initiative. The insurance is offered by Peoria-based OSF Health-Plans and is administered by a company run by the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. Federal workers have other healthcare plans from which to choose that offer reproductive healthcare services.
US Bishops Support New Antiabortion Law
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has strongly approved the new Federal Refusal Clause that will allow doctors, medical personnel, hospitals, insurers and health maintenance organizations to refuse to provide abortions, without any penalty under law. States need give no reason for their refusal and there are no exceptions for women who have been raped, or are facing permanent disability or a life-threatening emergency. The legislation was passed after it was slipped into the massive end-of-term $388 billion FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill, also known as the omnibus spending bill, which Congress had to pass to prevent a government shut-down. If a state wants to bypass the law, it will have to give up federal funding for health, education and labor programs—losses of billions of dollars. Prochoice groups immediately vowed to challenge the law in court.
In a statement, CFFC president Frances Kissling said, “It is sad that the Prolife Office of the USCCB supports such coercive legislation and sadder still that it misconstrues the nature of a democratic society by claiming that those who would go to court to correct this injustice are acting in undemocratic ways. The American system of democracy has always included checks and balances, with democracy ensured by a court system. The bishops have availed themselves of that system on many occasions, and those of us who are prochoice have done likewise. (See Come Again?, below) This is the American way. Sadly, the bishops increasingly reject the American democratic way and seek a theocracy and a Roman Catholic one at that.”
“This lawsuit is the height of hypocrisy… It is frankly not surprising that a group like NFPHRA [the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association] would rush to court. When abortion activists fail in the democratic arena, as they so often do, they turn to the courts to achieve their goals,” said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, spokeswoman for the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. [Zenit, “Lawsuit against conscience protection assailed as hypocrisy,” December 14, 2004.]
Despite Ms. Cleaver Ruse’s outrage about prochoice groups appealing to the court system when bad legislation is passed, the Catholic hierarchy is no stranger to exactly that tactic when it “fails in the democratic arena.” Some recent examples include:
2004: Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Gregory V. Serio, Superintendent, NYS Department of Insurance. The USCCB filed an amicus brief on behalf of Catholic Charities in opposition to a New York State requirement that it offers employees contraception insurance coverage.
2003: State of Oregon v. John Ashcroft. The USCCB filed an amicus brief opposing Oregon’s Measure 16, which legalized assisted suicide.
2003: Snetsinger v. Montana University System. The Montana Catholic Conference filed an amicus brief in a case in which two same-sex couples sued the Montana University system seeking spousal benefits.
2002: Devlin v. City of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference filed an amicus brief in a case opposing the extension of benefits to registered, same-sex “life partners” of city employees.
2001: Catholic Charities v. State of California. Catholic Charities of Sacramento filed suit against a law requiring it to comply with the California Women’s Contraception Equity Act whereby it must provide insurance coverage for prescription contraception to its employees when coverage covers other prescription drugs.
1999: Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale. The USCCB and the New Jersey Catholic Conference filed a joint amicus brief in support of the Boy Scouts’ policy against hiring gays as scout leaders.
• The Diocese of Orange in Southern California has settled its case with 90 victims of clergy sexual abuse in what is reportedly the largest payout since the scandal broke. The diocese will pay the victims some $100 million, far more than the $85 million paid out to more than 500 victims in Boston. With this settlement, a report in USA Today suggested that the financial cost of the scandal now tops $870 million.
• The Diocese of Spokane in Washington State has become the third in the US to file for bankruptcy protection. Facing claims of more than $77 million, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy which means that a court will decide what assets can be used to pay claims and how much each victim will get. Bishop William Skylstad, who just days before had been elected as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the announcement. The other two dioceses that filed for bankruptcy protection are those in Portland, Ore. and Tucson, Ariz. Iowa is also threatening to file for bankruptcy protection. David Clohessy, the national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, accused the diocese of trying to avoid a trial that would have exposed the full story of how it protected serial pedophiles.
• A grand jury indicted Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, the retired bishop of Springfield, Mass., on charges of child rape related to cases that occurred in the 1970s. However, due to statutes of limitations (which had a six-year limit at the time), the bishop will not appear in court. Dupre was the first US bishop to face criminal charges in the sexual abuse scandal. However, other jurisdictions may press charges, as Dupre brought the two boys he is charged with molesting on camping trips in New Hampshire, New York and Canada. These trips involve interstate travel and may trigger federal charges.
• Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the archbishop of New York, will testify in a civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. John Castaldo, who is accused of abuse during the early 1990s. Cardinal Egan had transferred the accused to another parish, before he was moved to three others.
• Pope John Paul II named Bishop Klaus Kueng, who investigated the child pornography scandal in Austria where 40,000 pornographic images were found on seminary computers, to replace Bishop Kurt Krenn, who resigned over the case. Kueng is a member of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei.
• The president of the USCCB appointed a new chairman and five new members to the National Review Board, the USCCB-sponsored group of laypeople charged with monitoring the hierarchy’s response to the sexual abuse crisis. Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of Duquesne University Law School, Pittsburgh, and serving board member, was named chairman until the conclusion of his term in June, 2005.
The new members, appointed for three-year terms ending October 2007, are: Dr. Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, educational consultant and president emeritus of Pace University, New York; Dr. Angelo P. Giardino, vice president for clinical affairs of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Philadelphia; Mr. Ralph I. Lancaster, Esq. of Pierce Atwood, Portland, Maine; Judge Michael R. Merz, United States Magistrate Judge; Mr. Joseph Russoniello, Esq., senior counsel and resident in the San Francisco office of Cooley Godward, LLP. One member, New York attorney Pamela Hayes, resigned her position early after conservative Catholic groups alleged that she made contributions to prochoice organizations.
• In Ireland, the Vatican has defrocked two Catholic priests in the Diocese of Ferns who had been convicted of sexually abusing children. While a spokesman refused to identify the men, only two priests from that diocese have been convicted of such abuse: James Doyle and Donal Collins. It is the first time that the Vatican has dismissed a priest in Ireland over sexual abuse. The diocese as also the home of Ireland’s most notorious priest pedophile, the Rev. Sean Fortune, who committed suicide in 1999 while awaiting trial on 66 criminal counts of molesting and raping boys over nearly two decades.
The bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, resigned in 2002 after admitting he had done “too little” to stop the abuse being committed by Fortune and others. Ireland has been hit particularly hard by the sexual abuse scandal, with the 1994 government of then-Prime Minister Albert Reynolds resigning over its handling of one case.
The Residential Institutions Redress Board, which is investigating physical and sexual abuse claims dating back to the 1940s, said it has paid nearly 2,000 claimants an average of $105,000 each. The board estimates it could eventually face up to 7,000 claims and pay out $870 million—the vast majority of it taxpayers’ money.
Religious Leaders Address Human Rights Abuse in China
Leaders of more than 40 major religious and family planning organizations from around the world submitted a letter to China’s President Hu Jintao to register concern about alleged human rights violations against Ms. Mao Hengfeng and to call for further efforts to eliminate coercive practices in China’s family planning programs.
Ms. Mao was forced to have an abortion and dismissed from her job in 1988 because she became pregnant when she already had a child. After following the official procedures to petition the authorities about her dismissal and against the treatment she suffered at the hands of the police, she was repeatedly detained by the police and confined in psychiatric hospitals, where she was administered shock therapy against her will. In April 2004, she was sentenced to a Re-education Through Labor camp.
The letter, coordinated by Catholics for a Free Choice, was signed by, among others, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for Women’s Policy Studies, the International Women’s Health Coalition, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Population Action International, Population Connection, Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition International. Religious leaders from the Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran and Unitarian churches as well as Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders also signed.
Chilean Court Rejects Opus Dei Claim
A case brought by the ultraconservative group Opus Dei in Chile against the Opus Gay newspaper was rejected by a court which ruled that it would be “difficult to see how the public could be exposed to mistakes or confusions” between the two. The local chapter of Opus Dei claimed that the name was an abuse of intellectual property laws and a deliberate attempt to cause offence. The court decided that both names could “co-exist peacefully.”
“By singularly obsessing over abortion, the church runs the risk of becoming just one more special-interest group, the NRA of the soul.”
— A salutary warning to the bishops about the dangers of becoming like the anti-gun-control National Rifle Association. [Margaret Carlson, “When it comes to Kerry, bishops have become cafeteria Catholics,” TheDay.com, November 1, 2004.]
“Catholic Democrat: Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.”
–The text of a button doing the rounds before the US elections in November. The text was surrounded by images of the “fires of hell.” [EJ Dionne, “How the Faithful Voted: Political Alignments and the Religious Divide in Election 2004,” Pew Forum Event Transcript, November 17, 2004.]
“We just want to observe the law, which means that we will not drive even after having a drop of alcohol, but we have to drink small quantities of wine as part of Communion.”
— From a statement by some Croatian priests requesting a multimillion dollar grant to employ people to chauffeur them after celebrating mass following the introduction of very strict drink-drive laws in the country. [Tablet (UK), “Not one drop,” September 18, 2004.]
“They even give cockroaches the rank of family now because they live under the same roof.”
— Cardinal Alphonse Lopez-Trujillo, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. [Edward Pentin, “Vatican Condemns Spanish Same-Sex ‘Marriage’,” National Catholic Register, October 31-November 6, 2004.]
“I recognize that there are many different kinds of caring relationships and these often create dependencies for those involved. The State may feel in justice that the rights of people in these relationships need to be protected…. I have a wide range of relationships in mind. I do not exclude gay relationships but my main concern is with all caring relationships where dependencies have come into being.”
— The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, who appeared to give his approval to legal rights for couples, including homosexuals, who live in relationships other than marriage. [David Quinn, “Archbishop backs legal rights for gay couples,” Irish Independent, November 16, 2004.]
“The Catholic church is best-known for its Draconian stance on sex, abortion and contraception. Advertising could help change that perspective around to emphasize other positive aspects.”
— Chas Bayfield, an advertising executive in the UK and member of Christians in Media (CIM), a group whose members offer their services free to Christian churches. [Maria Luisa Taddia, “Why God’s gift takes a lot of hard selling,” Financial Times (UK), November 30, 2004.]
“The underlying thing is that the church, which is not a democracy, is having trouble relating to democracy….The church is so dysfunctional. If you are in a dysfunctional relationship after a time you say enough is enough.”
— Father Peter Kennedy, of St. Mary’s Catholic Church at South Brisbane, Australia. [Elizabeth Allen, “Outspoken priest blasts church as dysfunctional,” news.com.au, December 2, 2004.]
“I think that by now we’ve said everything that’s to be said regarding our position on condoms. If an infected husband wants to have sex with his wife who isn’t infected, then she must defend herself by whatever means necessary…. If a wife can defend herself from having sex by whatever means necessary, why not with a condom?”
— Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health, saying something new on the issue of condoms. [John L. Allen, Jr., “AIDS, Catholics and the condom controversy,” National Catholic Reporter, October 8, 2004.]
“Since few persons in public life agree wholly with Catholic positions on abortion, the death penalty, and justifiable grounds for waging war, consistent application of the newly issued directives [against prochoice speakers] must finally be unsustainable.”
— From a statement by members of Catholic University’s Arts and Science faculty, after Stanley Tucci was disinvited from speaking at a Media Studies Department event about his work as an actor because of his support for prochoice causes. [Joe Feuerherd, “Identity, academic freedom go head-to-head at Catholic U.,” National Catholic Reporter, October 15, 2004.]