In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Summer 2005

The Church and Condoms
The Church and Abortion
The Church and State
Sexual Abuse Update
The Catholic Right
End Notes

The Church and Condoms

More Bishops Favor Condom Use
A number of bishops and senior clerics have spoken out in support of the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, revealing how divided the hierarchy is on this matter. While there has never been an infallible statement on the ban, many statements over the years supported the view that the Vatican unconditionally opposed their use.

The latest round of debate was sparked off in January by the secretary-general of the Spanish bishops’ conference, Fr. Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, who told reporters in Madrid that condoms “are part of the integral and global prevention of AIDS.” He spoke after a meeting on combating aids with the Spanish health minister, Elena Salgado. Speculative hopes in some media that the initial comments represented a sea change in Vatican policy were dashed when his comments were quickly “clarified” by the Spanish bishops. This happened after the direct intervention of Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who personally contacted Fr. Camino to discuss how to word the retraction. The turnaround was bemoaned by many, including the Catalan newspaper El Periodico, which said in an editorial, “The surprise and hope felt by many lasted only a few hours…. What is truly immoral is the church’s rejection of a method that saves human lives.”

However, several other senior clergy took the opportunity to speak out in favor of condom use. Mexican bishop Felipe Arizmendi of Chiapas said that condoms could be tolerated as “a lesser evil,” a position many support, including two senior Vatican theologians, Father Brian Johnstone of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian of the Papal Household, or the pope’s “in-house” adviser on theological matters. Cottier said there was moral justification for condom use to prevent “the transmission of death” to a sexual partner. Johnstone pointed out to the Los Angeles Times that in some societies it is almost impossible for a woman to refuse sex with her husband and if he is infected she should have the absolute right to protect herself by demanding he wear a condom. “The question is what to do when what should not happen does happen,” he said.

No less a figure than Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, told the Vatican newsagency Zenit, “If an aggressor has the Ebola virus, flu or AIDS and want to kill me, I must defend myself… How do I defend myself? With the most appropriate means. I must decide. If it is a club, with a club. If it is a pistol, with a pistol. And with a condom? Yes, if it is effective in defending me, in this case from unjust aggression.”

Elsewhere, Bishop Emeritus Fabián Marulanda of Florencia, secretary-general of the Colombian bishops’ conference, and Bishop Boniface Lele of the Kitui Diocese in Kenya also supported condom use to prevent HIV/AIDS, as did a spokesman for the church hierarchy in England and Wales, saying of the Vatican’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that bans contraception, “they didn’t have AIDS in those days.” The Scottish Catholic leader, Archbishop of Glasgow Mario Conti, said, “it is legitimate to ask whether there are any circumstances in which, not for contraceptive but for hygienic purposes, condoms may be used to prevent the spread of AIDS.”

Old habits die hard, however, and the head of the Catholic bishops’ conference in Southern Africa, Cardinal Wilfred Napier, claimed in an interview that, “There’s no medical evidence to prove that condoms prevent the transmission of Aids and it’s only 70% to 75% effective in preventing pregnancy,” a statement that is at odds with the available scientific data on condoms.

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The Church and Abortion

Prochoice Campaign in Brazil Gathers Steam
Several Recent Events in Brazil suggest that the prochoice campaign to legalize abortion may be gaining momentum. At the launch of a two-year campaign to legalize abortion in Brazil, in January, government minister Matilde Ribeiro declared, “I’m in favor of the legalization of abortion and I understand the need to put the debate before society.” The statement followed a new directive from the Ministry of Health removing the need for women to show a police report to a doctor in the case of rape.

Between 750,000 and 1.4 million abortions are carried out each year in Brazil, the vast majority in unsafe conditions. Government figures show that more than 250,000 women are treated in hospital each year suffering from postabortion complication and deaths from these complications are the fourth highest cause of maternal mortality.

A poll by Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir of 2,002 Brazilians (1,293 of them Catholics) showed that 82% of Catholics support abortion when the woman’s life is in danger, 80% when the fetus is severely disabled and 67% in the case of rape; 97% approve of the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS and 71% of Catholics support the availability of emergency contraception for free.

While Brazilian bishops have condemned politician legalizing abortion, and threatened them with loss of Catholic voters, these threats do not seem to have had much of an impact. In March, the Brazilian parliament overwhelmingly passed a measure approving governmentfunded stem cell research by a vote of 366-59, in direct defiance of the Vatican, which opposes such research.

Portuguese Government Announces Abortion Referendum
The Government in Portugal will hold a referendum on abortion in 2006, asking the question, “Do you approve that an abortion, carried out during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, with the woman’s consent and in an authorized medical facility, no longer be a crime?” Under the current law, a woman may have an abortion if her life is in danger, to protect her mental or physical health, or in cases of rape, incest or fetal impairment. However, doctors are very reluctant to provide services, so even women who meet these criteria are often refused. Between 20,000 and 40,000 “illegal” abortions take place each year, while thousands of women also go abroad. (For more on this, see, “When Abortion Is a Crime,” by Fernanda Câncio, Winter 2004/5.)

Bishop Censured in Abortion Row
The Argentinean government has initiated a conflict with the Vatican by dismissing the Catholic bishop to the military. Bishop Antonio Juan Baseotto had suggested that Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia should be “thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck” for supporting the decriminalization of abortion to save some women’s lives. Baseotto’s response was too close to the bone for the government, however, as it recalled the “flights of death” during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, when suspected dissidents were dropped from airplanes into the sea, sometimes with priests present giving blessing. The Vatican has said that anything interfering with Bishop Baseotto’s work would be interpreted as an attack on religious freedom. After the remarks, President Nestor Kirchner revoked a 2002 agreement with the Vatican whereby the chaplain receives a government salary and recognition for ministering to Catholic soldiers.

The Philippines Rejects US Extremism
The author of a government-sponsored reproductive health bill has called for the expulsion from the country of US antichoice operative Brian Clowes from Human Life International (HLI). Albay Representative Edcel Lagman called Clowes, a former Green Beret, “crazy” and said he should be declared an “undesirable alien” for spreading “sinister fallacies.” Clowes had claimed that the bill would eventually allow the legalization of abortion, a claim derided by Lagman, who pointed out that the aim of the bill was to “avoid or prevent unwanted pregnancies.” Not only has HLI staked out an extreme and disingenuous position in the Philippines, but it has a long history courting controversy through extremist actions and statements, such as spreading rumors that the World Health Organization was providing the women of the Philippines, Mexico and Nicaragua with tetanus vaccines designed to impair fertility. In 2003, HLI reported spending $145,000 to “promote prolife activities” in the Philippines.

The Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines has also started a campaign against the new legislation. In a pastoral letter, Bishop Paciano Aniceto, chairman of the Commission on Family Life of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged the clergy, Catholic schools, youth organizations and lay Catholics to “manifest our collective opposition” to the bill, continuing that the hierarchy will publicize “medical findings that show the ill effects of contraceptives and their social implications.” The bishops also urged Catholic health workers not to support the family planning and sex education program.

UK Cardinal Urges, then Withdraws Support for Conservatives 
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, entered the election campaign in the UK when he urged Catholic voters to consider election candidates’ positions on abortion before deciding how to vote. Abortion has rarely been an election issue in the UK, and is unlikely to be this year either, but with increasing debate over the time limits for abortion, it may be the matter for some debate in the run up to the May 5 election. The cardinal initially expressed outright support for the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, who has advocated a reduction in the time limit to 20 weeks’ gestation, but rescinded this support almost immediately after widespread opposition to any religious interference in the election.

Vatican Praises Woman Who Died to Avoid Abortion 
Following the canonization in 2004 of Gianna Beretta Molla, who died of cancer in 1962 after refusing to have an abortion to allow for treatment that might have saved her life, the Vatican has praised another woman who died in similar circumstances. Rita Fedrizzi, 41, died three months after giving birth, after also refusing treatment that would have required an abortion, leaving a husband and three children: the newborn, a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old.

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The Church and State

Bishops Support Denial of Legal Services
Three Catholic Organizations have lobbied the US Senate, urging it to uphold legislation that places extreme limitations on the right of conscience of women seeking safe and legal abortion services. The legislation, approved last Decem ber, permits all hospitals, not just those controlled by the Catholic church, to deny women and doctors the right to some services. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association (a trade organization for Catholic health institutions) and the Catholic Medical Association have urged lawmakers to uphold this federal refusal clause. Sen. Barbara Boxer (Democrat, Calif.) has indicated her intention to introduce legislation to rescind the refusal clause protection by the end of April. On January 25, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer also challenged the provision, known as the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, by filing a lawsuit claiming that the measure violates state sovereignty. As it stands, the law does not protect the conscience of women and their doctors, who may well consider abortion and other services prohibited by the church to be profoundly moral and medically necessary.

Vatican Uses Claim to Statehood in Bid to Avoid Another Sex Abuse Lawsuit
A Report from the National Catholic Reporter’s John L. Allen Jr. disclosed that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano appealed to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “intervene in a US lawsuit naming the Holy See as a defendant in a sex abuse case.”

In June 2004, attorney William McMurray filed a class-action lawsuit against the Vatican in US District Court for the Western District of Kentucky on behalf of more than 240 victims of clergy sex abuse. In addition to unspecified monetary damages from the Vatican, McMurray also requested injunctions requiring the Vatican to “cease its violations of the internationally recognized human rights of children” and “to report all allegations of childhood sexual abuse” in the United States. The Vatican is seeking immunity from prosecution, which Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro- Valls confirmed: “It’s obvious and reasonable that the Holy See would present its positions as a sovereign entity to the American State Department, and recall the immunity for its acts that international law anticipates.”

A campaign calling on the United Nations to reconsider whether the Vatican is, in fact, a state is ongoing. The “See Change” Campaign ( was initiated in 1999 and is now supported by more than 700 groups in 80 countries. It argues that as a matter of law, the Holy See does not meet the criteria laid out for a state and should not be considered as such by the UN.

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Sexual Abuse Update

  • The Irish government has released a report estimating that the final cost of the settlement for clergy abuse victims in Ireland may be more than $1 billion, with the vast majority (85%) coming from the government itself.
  • A report on clergy sexual abuse in the Philippines, prepared by Catholics for a Free Choice and two local ngos, Likhaan ng mga Kababaihan and the Child Justice League, has been submitted to the United Nations, the Holy See and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The report follows similar ones on Canada, Germany, France and Austria and includes in its recommendations that the Holy See ends the requirement for secrecy involving clergy sexual abuse cases.
  • A survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, an organization commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has revealed that more than 600 diocesan priests and deacons were accused in 2004 of sexually abusing minors (with the majority of cases occurring during the 1970s). A majority of the offenders are deceased, had already been removed from ministry or been laicized. In 2004, some $140 million was spent on settlements and other fees, $93 million on settlements to victims and $32 million on attorney fees.

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The Catholic Right

New Antiabortion Community Founded
Father Frank A. Pavone, director of the antiabortion group, Priests for Life, has announced the formation of a religious community that focuses solely on “life issues.” The men-only group, Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, will be based in Amarillo, Texas, and will train its members in voter-registration drives, lobbying and using the media to promote its antichoice views. Amarillo Bishop John W. Yanta, spiritual director of the community, claimed that the group was “going to act like Jesus” and refused to rule out aggressive strategies in the pursuit of its goals.

Come Again?
“Ave Maria College is an academic institution that pledges faithfulness to the teachings of the Church [and] is known for academic rigor and faithfulness to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. … As an institution committed to Catholic principles, the College recognizes the importance of creating and maintaining an environment in which faith informs the life of the community and takes expression in all its programs.”

However, according to Church & State, the journal produced by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, school officials may not be living up to their mission statement. The ultraconservative Roman Catholic school has been forced to return hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal education aid money, following a government finding of misuse. The Department of Education found that Ave Maria College filed inadequate documentation for students seeking financial aid and improperly distributed financial aid to students at the college’s sister university in Naples, Fla. A financial official with Ave Maria College told the Naples Daily News that it had repaid $259,620 to the federal government.

Opus Dei Gains Cabinet Post, Parish in the UK
The ultraconservative Catholic sect, Opus Dei, was in the headlines in the UK, and for reasons that had nothing to do with The Da Vinci Code. First, it was given its own parish by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’- Connor who said that Father Gerard Sheehan—one of 17 Opus Dei priests in Britain— would take over pastoral care of St. Thomas More Church in Swiss Cottage, north London. Then Ruth Kelly, the new Secretary of State for Education, admitted after weeks of speculation that she was a supernumerary in the group.

Opus Dei was founded in Spain by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, in 1928, and rose to prominence under Franco’s Fascist regime where its members filled as many as nine cabinet posts. In 1982, Pope John Paul II gave the group the unique status of a personal prelature, meaning that it was above Catholic law and reported directly to the pope. Escriva was canonized by the pope in 2002. In 1981, Murphy-O’Connor’s predecessor, the late Cardinal Basil Hume, imposed restrictions on the workings of the sect in his diocese, stating that members should be 18, the parents of young candidate members should be notified, members should be free to leave and that its activities should carry clear indications of sponsorship.

Ms. Kelly insisted in an interview with the UK’s Daily Mirror that her faith was a private matter which had nothing to do with her job. “I have a private spiritual life and I have a faith. It is a private spiritual life and I don’t think it is relevant to my job,” she said. Those familiar with the workings of Opus Dei are not likely to be convinced, as one of the most quoted of Escriva’s sayings is: “Have you ever bothered to think how absurd it is to leave one’s Catholicism aside on entering a university, or a professional association, or a scholarly meeting, or a congress, as if you were checking your hat at the door?”

Come Again?
Austin Ruse, president of the conservative New York-based group C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), said after the UN’s legal committee adopted a declaration on cloning: “By adopting this declaration, the international community is united in condemning all human cloning as exploitative and unethical. This should encourage similar bans in legislatures around the world including in the US Senate.” [Friday Fax, February 18, 2005.]

The reality, as is so often the case when Austin Ruse speaks, is somewhat different.

The United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning is a non-binding resolution, meaning that individual states can choose whether or not to ignore it. Additionally, only 84 member states in the 191-nation assembly voted in favor of the declaration, with 34 against, 37 abstentions and 36 absent, meaning that the majority of states, 107, failed to support it.

In fact, several countries have already stated openly that they will ignore it, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, South Korea and China. The UK’s UN Ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry called the resolution “a weak, non-binding political statement” and that the UK would continue to permit therapeutic cloning research “because of the hope it offers of new treatments to benefit millions of people and their families.

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End Notes

Vatican Issues New Annulment Handbook
The Vatican has updated the 1936 handbook on annulments. Speaking at the launch, Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, echoed the wider concern among the hierarchy, saying some people see annulments as nothing more than a way “to obtain a divorce with the blessing of the church.” Annulments in the US accounted for some twothirds of the world total of about 46,000 in 2002 (out of a total of 56,000 requested). There were 31,000 granted in North America and 9,000 in Europe. Reasons for nullifying a marriage include impotence, refusal by a spouse to have children and psychological immaturity at the time of marriage.

Mixed Messages on The Da Vinci Code
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa and former deputy head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Doctrine of the Faith, has urged Catholics to avoid reading or even buying Dan Brown’s fictional novel, The Da Vinci Code, describing it as a collection of “shameful and unfounded lies.” It is the first time anybody close to the Vatican has officially responded to the novel since it was published in 2003.

The novel’s plot centers on the theory that Jesus was married and his descendents are in hiding today. However, Monsignor Jose Maria Pinheiro, future bishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil (one of the largest Catholic dioceses in the world), and Archbishop Thomas Collins of Edmonton, Canada, rejected Cardinal Bertone’s outcry, urging Catholics to use prudence in judging the content of the book. “It is important to talk to young people about it so that they can differentiate, but I don’t think it’s necessary to ban its reading,” Pinheiro said. Collins concurred, adding, “Most of us don’t think it’s worth giving it more free publicity. I don’t think solemnly condemning it is very helpful.”

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“Faithful Catholics may not be concerned with this issue because Dorothy Stang dedicated herself to economic and political issues outside the concerns of the Church. Our concerns, which you call ‘culture of life,’ are about the importance of every individual, including unborn individuals, not socialist land schemes for groups of the unemployed.”
— Janet Hardwick, a “faithful Catholic,” responding to an article condemning the silence of conservative Catholics on the murder of the peasants’ rights activist Sr. Dorothy Stang in Brazil. [“Threat Logic,”, February 13, 2005]

“A Jaguar is an excellent car for a couple on a date, but not for me. Even getting into it is a huge problem: the cramped conditions are unacceptable.” 
— Father Henryk Jankowski, a former parish priest at St. Bridget’s in Gdansk, Poland, who was renowned for his penchant for luxury, on his attachment to his Mercedes. [Warsaw Voice (Poland), “Heard in Passing,” February 16, 2005]

“Raise some hell. Be vigilant. Be outspoken. And demand transparency. No more passive Catholics.”
— Anne Burke, former head of the bishops’ national review board overseeing compliance with the sexual abuse norms, addressing progressive Catholics. [National Catholic Reporter, “Editorial: Sealing the answers won’t quiet the questions,” March 18, 2005]

“The increasing number of abortions that you promote with drugs that are known abortifacients is an attempt to justify the crime of homicide…When you publicly distributed prophylactics to young people, did you remember the text from the Gospel where our Lord said that “those who scandalize the small deserve that a rock be hung from their neck and be thrown in the ocean…” 
— Monsignor Antonio Juan Baseotto, in a letter to Dr. Gines Mario Gonzalez Garcia, the minister of Public Health for Argentina. (For more on this story, see p8.) [Monsignor Antonio Juan Baseotto, Letter to Dr. Gines Mario Gonzalez Garcia, February 17, 2005]

“[E]verything you wanted to know about sex but the church (almost) never dared to tell you…. Sex? God invented it…. Original sin? Sex has nothing to do with it…. Without sex there is no real marriage…. [M]ake love more often to offset impotence and frigidity…. Sex between Christian spouses is not only permitted, not only advised, but absolutely obligatory.” 
— A series of quotes from a new Vatican-approved book about sex, It’s A Sin Not To Do It, which also unearths a theological justification for post-coital masturbation for women who fail to achieve orgasm during intercourse. [Julian Coman, “It’s a sin not to do it, Vatican’s new sex guide tells Catholics,” Ottawa Citizen, October 31, 2004]

“Look at the countries that now have zero population. They have no manpower, they have no more people.”
— Archbishop Fernando Cappalla of Davao, painting a somewhat overly-apocalyptic vision of the successes of family planning programs. [, “Abortion worse than murder says head of Philippine bishops conference,” March 15, 2005]

“I was really shocked that a book based on so many inaccuracies and innumerable lies has been able to have the success it’s had.”
– Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone presents the first “official” Vatican view of the fictional novel, The DaVinci Code, two years after it first hit the bookstores. [“Cardinal versus The DaVinci Code,” Tablet (UK), March 19, 2005]

“[T]he Achilles’ heel of the Roman Catholic Church…and this drives a lot of people nuts, is we rarely excommunicate anyone. I mean, we are so darn tolerant; it drives me nuts at times, because we’re always preaching conversion, we’re always calling people to repent, to turn around. We’re always extending forgiveness, giving another chance, and it’s only the last, ultimate resource that you kick somebody out…. So when we are dealing with a politician, it’s frustrating. You’d like to kind of give them the boot, but at the same time, what we’re always doing is calling to conversion.” 
— Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, discussing Prime Minister Paul Martin who supports gay marriage, has clearly not received the memo from the Vatican about cracking down on recalcitrant politicians.[, “Calgary’s Bishop Henry says excommunication a possibility for prime minister,” March 10, 2005]

“The real problem is not immigration. The real problem is that we’re not having children. If Islam would prevail and if Islam would occupy Europe, it would not be its fault, it would be our fault.”
 Rocco Buttiglione, the unsuccessful European Commission nominee, expressing yet again what he describes as “well known, traditional views,” this time about immigration into Italy. [Edward Pentin, “One man’s conscience vs. the European Union,” National Catholic Register, February 13-19, 2005]

Catholics for Choice