In Catholic Circles

An International News Roundup

Spring 2006

In this Issue:

The Church and Homosexuality
The Church and Women
The Church and Abortion
The Church and State
The Church and HIV/AIDS
The Sexual Abuse Scandal

The Church and Homosexuality

Vatican Steps up Witch-hunt against Gay Priests
The Vatican’s congregation for Catholic Education has issued its much-leaked and long-awaited “Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders.”

The Instruction, which was approved by Pope Benedict XVI, does not affect men who are already priests but says that the church “cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or who support the so-called ‘gay culture’.”

Many priests and campaigners for gay equality were critical of the Instruction. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said (before the Instruction was officially released), “You don’t write off a candidate for the priesthood simply because he is a gay man.” Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood (Liturgical Press, 2000), has estimated that between 25 and 50 percent of current priests are gay. Frances Kissling, president of CFFC, said the document marked a “sad moment” for the church because it would “exclude faithful and good men who are called to the priesthood.”

Rev. Gerald Chojnacki, the head of the Jesuit order in New York, wrote asking bishops to tell Vatican officials “of the great harm this will cause many good priests and the Catholic faithful.” Having attended several funerals of gay Jesuit clergy, he continued, “I find it insulting to demean their memory and their years of service by even hinting that they were unfit for priesthood because of their sexual orientation.”

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The Church and Women

Catholic School Fires Pregnant Teacher 
A pregnant Catholic schoolteacher in Brooklyn, NY, has been fired by a Catholic school because she is unmarried. A spokesperson for the Diocese of Brooklyn said that it supported the decision by the Saint Rose of Lima school to fire Michelle McCusker because the teachers’ handbook stated that “a teacher can not violate the tenets of Catholic morality.”

Speaking at a rally in support of McCusker, CFFC board member Eileen Moran said, “I am appalled by the unjust, unethical treatment she has received. This action violates the church’s own teaching on the rights of workers to be treated justly and with respect. St. Rose and the Brooklyn diocese behaved abysmally and hypocritically in its firing of Ms. McCusker. To me, Ms. McCusker exemplifies the best of Catholicism. She chose teaching, a career of service over material gain and she now shows she has the courage to challenge injustice not only on her own behalf but on behalf of other pregnant women.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a wrongful dismissal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and McCusker has also filed suit against the school.

Canadian Priest Suspended for Supporting Women’s Ordination
The Rev. Edward Cachia, who served at St. Michael’s parish in Cobourg, Ontario, has been suspended for suggesting that the ordination of nine women on a tour boat on the St. Lawrence River was “the beginning of a new and awesome change in the life of the church.” Bishop Nicola De Angelis issued the order to Cachia, stating that he “can no longer be relied upon to celebrate the Eucharist within the Church as Christ intended.”

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The Church and Abortion

Italian Government Reveals Antiabortion Bias 
The Italian government has announced plans to place antiabortion advocates in state-funded clinics to discourage women considering abortion. Italy’s health minister, Francesco Storace, who is also opposed to the use of contraceptive pills, plans to rewrite the guidelines for advice centers to ensure they use volunteers from the antiabortion Movement for Life group.

Abortion Reform in Latin America 
The campaigns in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia to legalize abortion in certain circumstances are ongoing, but have met with mixed fortunes.

In Argentina, the campaign gained an influential supporter when health minister Ginés González García added his signature to the campaign petition. González García had previously invoked the ire of the Catholic hierarchy after he announced his support for the decriminalization of abortion and government provision of contraceptives, and he was quoted in a prominent newspaper acknowledging the importance of the debate on abortion from a public health perspective.

In Brazil, the minister for women’s policies, Nilcéia Freire, officially delivered a draft bill proposing full legalization of first trimester abortions to the Social Security and Family Committee of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. Deputy Jandira Feghali of Rio de Janeiro has incorporated the draft bill into a bill she already has under consideration by the committee. However, opponents of the move to reform the law have used bureaucratic parliamentary moves to stymie a vote on the issue.

In Colombia, the courts have also used technicalities in the law to delay a ruling on whether the law should be reformed, claiming that it could not issue a ruling on the complaint as it was presented. Monica Roa, the lawyer who brought the case, said that this is that last thing she expected to happen, but that it’s not a “no.”

Come Again?

“Skewed Polls?” 
“Harris says it telephoned 1,012 adults, of whom 442 identified as pro-life and 512 as pro-choice. Might not that skew the findings seven percent in the pro-choice direction?” Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the conservative journal First Things, discussing a poll on abortion views in his column “The Public Square.” —First Things, p77, August/September 2005.

Priming the Pump 
It might “skew the findings,” or it might reflect that there is a prochoice majority in the US. Neuhaus clearly wants to prime the pump when it comes to polling. Why not exclude all people who say they are prochoice? Then he might get the answers he craves but can never find in “skewed” polls.

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The Church and State

Lithuanian Parliament Rejects Bishop’s Anti-Democratic Plea 
The Lithuanian parliament rejected a formal request from Archbishop Sigitas Tamkievicius to deny Member of Parliament Ausrine Marija Pavilioniene leave of absence to travel to Latin America on a fact-finding trip. The trip to Peru and Brazil was organized by CFFC and the Inter-European parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (IEPFPD) and consisted of a delegation of parliamentarians from Lithuania, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland, Germany and Portugal who met with members of parliament and government representatives, leading activists and non-governmental organizations working on sexual and reproductive health and rights and feminist causes, as well as members of the clergy active on HIV/AIDS.

The archbishop claimed that allowing the MP to travel could “damage the image of the church.” Ms. Pavilioniene had come to the attention of the church hierarchy previously because she initiated a parliamentary petition on a woman’s right to choose in September 2005 and she heads a cross-party group of parliamentarians seeking to improve the sexual and reproductive health of Lithuanians.

“Archbishop Tamkievicius’ actions illustrate the heavy handed tactics of some church officials when confronted with views they don’t agree with,” said Hon. Ruth Genner, a Swiss MP and President of IEPFPD. “Trying to limit a parliamentarian’s freedom of action shows how out of touch the church can be with modern Europe where we now live in plural democracies, but the church as an institution, does not accept democratic rules…. It is a victory for democracy and human rights that the Lithuanian parliament rejected his request.”

European Parliament Issues Statement on Women and Religion
The parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has adopted, with a large majority, a resolution supporting women’s rights and the separation of church and state. The resolution, “Women and Religion in Europe,” calls on the Council of Europe “to protect women against violations of their rights in the name of religion and to promote and fully implement gender equality.” In the debate before the resolution was passed, several speakers referred to the lack of equality for women in the Catholic church.

The resolution calls on members of the European Union to:

7.3. Guarantee the separation between the church and the State which is necessary to ensure that women are not subjected to religiously inspired policies and laws (e.g. in the area of family, divorce, and abortion law);
7.6. Take a stand against all religious doctrine which is anti-democratic or disrespectful of human rights, especially women’s rights, and refuse to allow such doctrines to influence political decision-making;
7.7. Actively promote respect of women’s rights, equality and dignity in all areas of life when engaging in dialogue with representatives of different religions and work on achieving full gender equality in society.

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The Church and HIV/AIDS

Vatican Cancels Singer for “Pro-Condom” Statement 
The Vatican has dropped an invitation to Daniela Mercury, a Brazilian singer who was to have sung at a concert in Rome, because of her support for the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The annual concert will raise money for the foreign missions of the Jesuit order. Mercury has appeared in television ads encouraging the use of condoms which were part of a massive safer sex education campaign organized and funded by the Brazilian health ministry immediately prior to Carnaval in 2005.

After the Vatican acted, Mercury, who is an ambassador for UNICEF and the UN anti-AIDS program, affirmed her right to disagree with the hierarchy’s opposition to using condoms, stating that they are “a way to protect life.”

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The Sexual Abuse Scandal

A two-year government investigation has revealed more than 100 allegations of abuse against 26 priests in the Diocese of Ferns. The 26 priests represent nearly 10 percent of those who served in the period under investigation (1966-2005).

The report, which faulted police and local officials but reserved its most scathing criticism for church leaders, including the Vatican itself, has lead to calls for parliament to reconsider the relationship between church and state in Ireland.

Despite the savage indictment of their conduct, church leaders were less than wholehearted in their contrition. While Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh conceded that “the betrayal of trust is horrendous,” the current bishop of Ferns, Eamonn Walsh, would only acknowledge that the report “is a sober reminder to me and to the priests of the Diocese of Ferns of the depth of damage that has been done to those who were abused by priests. There are no excuses for what has happened in the past.”

In a speech to the Irish parliament, Liz O’Donnell TD said, “This report, however, is landmark [as] it will change forever the special relationship that has existed for many decades between church and state. This report must be the starting point for the state’s response to all contained in it. This new beginning cannot happen unless the old relationship ends. The unrelenting deference, which constituted the relations between state and church was given and expected. It was extremely influential in terms of outcome. It must end absolutely. Only then can the state act as it should as we go forward—objectively.”

United States

  • The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has released the heavily redacted personnel files of 126 clergymen who have been accused of sexual abuse. The files—some of which date from the 1930s—were produced as a negotiating tool in a case involving 560 accusers. Raymond P. Boucher, the lead lawyer for those suing the church, said releasing the files was merely a public relations move as they had been cleansed of much of the damaging details of the accusations and the church’s response.
  • The Archdiocese of Hartford has agreed to pay $22 million to settle sexual abuse claims brought by 43 people against 14 priests.

The Brazilian newsmagazine Istoè has revealed the extent of the sexual abuse crisis in Brazil. In recent months, four priests have been charged and a further three have been convicted of the sexual abuse of minors. In addition, 10 Brazilian priests are currently in jail with another 40 missing. As in the US and elsewhere, bishops have transferred suspected abusers from one parish to another after complaints surfaced.

In two sickening cases, convicted priests had outlined their experiences in their diaries. One, Fr. Tarcisio Tadeu Spricigo, who was convicted in 2003, listed 10 guidelines for identifying potential victims. They included the age (7-10-years old), sex (male), social status (poor) and pointers as to where to find and how to lure victims as well as what to do with their families and how to treat the victims.

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“We are trying to balance our communications strategy so as not to bring additional attention to the allegations—while appropriately responding with comments that question [the report author’s] motivations.” —Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, in an email to her members explaining her response to a report outlining how some Catholic hospitals price-gouged patients who had no health insurance. [1]

“Suppose somebody voted for the killing of all the members of the House of Representatives, ‘for all of you being killed. I call that pro-choice. Moreover, I am going to receive Holy Communion next Sunday.’ Then you ask me, should he be given communion. My reply, ‘Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that question? ’.” —Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. [2]

“We are seeing so many Roman Catholics joining the (Episcopal) Church, Pope Ratzinger may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church.” —Bishop Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopalian bishop, speaking at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, London. [3]

“We’ll own all commercial real estate. That means we will be able to control what goes on there. You won’t be able to buy a Playboy or Hustler magazine in Ave Maria Town. We’re going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drug store and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won’t be able to get that in Ave Maria Town.” —Tom Monaghan, founder of the Ave Maria Law School and of Domino’s Pizza, describing his vision of the town he is founding near Naples, Florida. [4]

“A Catholic Jonestown.” —The response of one Ave Maria faculty member to Monaghan’s vision. [5]

 “In the light of such teaching, this dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture’.” —From the Vatican’s “Instruction” on gay seminarians. [6]

 “You don’t write off a candidate for the priesthood simply because he is a gay man.” —Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland. [7]

“Bring on the Inquisition…. What’s wrong with a good inquisition now and then?” —Brian Saint-Paul, outlining his editorial view on the seminary visitation in Crisis magazine. [8]

 “This Report, however, is landmark in another aspect. It will change forever the special relationship that has existed for many decades between Church and State. This Report must be the starting point for the State’s response to all contained in it. This new beginning cannot happen unless the old relationship ends. The unrelenting deference, which constituted the relations between State and Church. It was given and expected. It was extremely influential in terms of outcome. It must end absolutely. Only then can the State act as it should as we go forward—objectively.” —Liz O’Donnell TD (member of the Irish parliament), speaking in parliament after the release of a report into the sexual abuse scandal in the Diocese of Ferns. [9]

“It’s not a result of homosexuality, and nor is it a result of celibacy. We must address pedophilia for what it is. You cannot identify homosexuality with pedophilia. It’s a very specific thing and it must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.” —Archbishop Diarmuid Martin again. [10]


  1. Consejo de Latinos Unidos, media release, “Internal Email Exposes ‘Deliberate and Immoral’ Campaign to Ignore Facts,” November 17, 2005.
  2. Andrew Rabel, “What Will Be the Consequences of the Synod?” Inside the Vatican, November 12, 2005.
  3. Kevin Eckstrom, “Gay Episcopal Bishop Criticizes Pope; Some Catholics Outraged,” Religion News Service, November 8, 2005.
  4. Naomi Schaefer Riley, “Bringing a Law School Down,” Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2005.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Congregation for Catholic Education, “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders,” November 4, 2005.
  7. Michael Hirst, “Priesthood ‘must be open to gays’,” Tablet (UK), October 1, 2005.
  8. Brian Saint-Paul, “Bring on the Inquisition” (editorial), Crisis, November 2005.
  9. Liz O’Donnell TD, “Dail Statement on Ferns Report,” November 9, 2005.
  10. Michael Hirst, “Priesthood ‘must be open to gays’,” Tablet (UK), October 1, 2005.
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